Chicago Sun-Times

September 2011 Archives

Chris Harris has setback to his hamstring

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Bears safety Chris Harris, who has missed the last two games, practiced in full on Wednesday.

But Harris suffered a setback to his left hamstring, according to a source, and he's expected to miss at least Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, although he's officially listed as questionable.

"Yeah, it's disappointing not being able to play," Harris said after practice Friday. "But we've got the guys who can go out there and get the job done, and they will get the job done on Sunday."

The back end has looked anything but sharp without him, as the Bears have fielded several different combinations in his absence.

Second-year safety Major Wright practiced in full Thursday, so he will likely start with Brandon Meriweather.

Chris Conte and veteran Craig Steltz have also received playing time.

An All-Pro last season, after collecting five interceptions, Harris has proven to be one of the team's most dependable veterans.

"He's a guy who helps us go," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said of Harris. "He's a general back there, and I look at him in the same respect that I looked at Mike Brown when he was here. He's a playmaker. He's a guy that we need on the field."

But, that won't be on Sunday.

Earl Bennett may miss at least two more games

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Bears receiver Earl Bennett, who took a helmet to his chest in New Orleans Sept. 18, may miss several more games.

Bennett didn't play in a loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday because of what the team has described as a chest injury, but indications are he's expected to also miss the games against the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions.

The injury, though, isn't expected to be a season ender.

The team's primary slot receiver, Bennett was injured when Saints safety Roman Harper drilled him in the chest with his helmet at the end of a nine-yard catch. In the season opener, Bennett had two catches for 11 yards.

With him sidelined, undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher has stepped in, catching nine passes for 66 yards, including two touchdowns.

Those are solid numbers. But the Bears certainly have a better offense with Bennett in it. He's a solid route runner, he's sure-handed, and quarterback Jay Cutler often turns to him in crucial situations, partly because the two played together at Vanderbilt University.

Joe Theismann calls out Roy Williams

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Former Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann didn't mince words, when speaking about Bears receiver Roy Williams.

Theismann teed off on Williams on the NFL Network's "No Huddle" show Wednesday.

"Roy Williams will never be a quality receiver in the National Football League because he doesn't have what it takes," Theismann said.

Then, the former Notre Dame quarterback addressed the receiver.

"Roy, if you're listening I'm saying it right to you: you have to make a decision that you want to play football as a professional, not as somebody who's entitled because somebody was not thinking when they gave two number one [draft picks] for you," Theismann said.

To see the clip, click here

Theismann also isn't a big fan of the Bears receivers, in general.

"The Chicago Bears, the wide receiving corps is non-existent," he said. "We don't even know that Jay Cutler is getting better because he's spending a lot of time doing everything going backwards."

Theismann is entitled to his opinions. But those comments seem awfully personal. Sheesh.

Bears feel offense close to getting back on track

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The Bears' struggling offense was the obvious focus Wednesday at Halas Hall. The Bears are 23rd in the NFL in total yards (305 per game), 17th in passing yards (251 per game) and 31st in rushing yards (54 per game). And they are tied for first (or last, depending on your perspective) with 14 sacks allowed.

Here's what they had to say about it, coming off a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz: ''We just missed some things that we normally make. There were some plays -- and there were a lot of them -- where you make one here, you make one there and it's a different game. You have to make those plays against good teams.''

Highlights from Jay Cutler press conference

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had his voice back, although he tiptoed around a few questions during his press conference.

Here are some highlights:

* On frustration with the run-pass ratio, and if his relationship with Mike Martz is at all strained: "[Laughs] Anytime, I think it's across the NFL, whenever you're losing games, there's a little bit of a sense of panic and a sense of doom. We've just got to get over that. You've got to keep working. You take a look at the film, and it wasn't just one thing. It was across the board. Every single person made a mistake at some point in that game. You don't want to blame one person. But if we take away some stuff, we're right there in it. We've just got to keep working. There were a lot of positives on the flip side."

* On how much input into the game plan he would like to have: "That's not my job; never has been. I never really wanted to be an offensive coordinator either. So this is Mike's system. This is what Mike does. One-hundred percent, I've bought into it since the first day of install. I'm gonna keep believing in it, and keep trying to run the plays to the best of my ability."

* On if he expected the offense to be further along by now: "Yeah, Week 1 we were good. We were clicking. We had a good balance. But more than that we executed the plays. We didn't have as many mistakes. We didn't have as many mentals out there, and that's the biggest thing. It doesn't really matter what defense we're going against, who it is. It's about us and us going out there executing."

* On if the Bears should scale back the offense, given the struggles: "You know it's not really Mike's M.O., and I don't really see us doing that."

* On getting away from the run against the Packers: "Mike saw some stuff in the secondary that he wanted to take advantage of and that's what we went with."

* On seeing Greg Olsen Sunday: "I went through it when I went back to Denver and played in a preseason game there. It's part of the business. He'll be fine."

* On his low completion percentage: "In any offense, [completion percentage] is important. You want to complete balls, and you want to do it at a high rate. We've had some pressure the first three games and I've had to dump the ball, had to get rid of it, had to throw it away. You know, there's a lot of things that contribute to that."

* On if this is a must-win Sunday against the Panthers: "I don't think we need to go that far. We want to win them all. This is an important game for us. We're gonna go out there. We're gonna do everything possible to win. There's a lot of football left. There's a lot of things that can happen. I don't think we need to start panicking quite yet."

* On where his offense is most challenged: "We've got to convert on third down. That ties into the rest of that stuff. So if we're converting third downs and giving ourselves manageable third downs... those third-and-longs, at the end of the day, we're not gonna be able to convert a high rate of those. So first and second down, getting enough yards to put us in position to be successful on third down and keep the chains moving, keep the clock moving and keep our defense off the field."

* On Carolina's defense: "They're a solid defense. A lot of stuff coming over from Philly, Ron Rivera from here and in San Diego. So they've got a lot of different elements to their defense. It's just a matter of us sorting it out. I think the theme of this conference right now is it's about us. We've got to take care of us first."

* On confidence in his offensive line: "Yeah, I don't have a choice. Those are the guys we've got to go with, and we've got to get them ready, and I've got to believe in them. So at the end of the day they're gonna do the best possible job they can for me."

* On if shorter passes would improve his accuracy: "We're more than a year into this offense and this is what we do. We're not gonna change. You can't halfway just decide to overhaul the offense. It's just not possible. It's not realistic. We're just gonna have to get better at the offense we're running right now, and execute it on a consistent basis."

The Challenge of Cam

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I didn't watch a whole lot of college football last season. But, because Auburn was so good, I did get to see Cam Newton.

Forget about all the off-the-field drama, which does cast some concern about character.

But as a player, I was very, very impressed. There's the size and mobility. But what stood out to me -- unlike some other mobile college quarterbacks -- was his very solid throwing mechanics. I really wondered about Tim Tebow, for instance, not only with his delivery but his arm strength.

But Newton showcased an ability to make all sort of throws. And while he can run, it seems his inclination is to throw, something Michael Vick still doesn't seem to have a handle on.

Many wondered if Newton would live up to being the No. 1 pick.

But what's not debatable is how impressive he has been through three games. Ultimately, quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses. But it's hard to dispute what he did in Week 1, against the Arizona Cardinals. And then, against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Newton put on another show, although he wasn't nearly as clutch as he had been the week before.

The Packers were able to force some key turnovers, in part, because of their blitz from all angles defense.

I have to wonder if the Bears will have to deviate from the norm and mix in some blitzes, and take more risks. The challenge for a young quarterback is processing what a defense is trying to do. If the Bears rely mostly on their base Cover-Two scheme, Newton isn't going to have too much difficulty understanding what's in front of him.

That approach from the Bears would, once again, put a lot of pressure on the d-line to make plays.

Perhaps the Bears should throw in some linebacker blitzes. But the player I would like to see take a few runs at Newton is D.J. Moore. He's athletic, he's a solid tackler, and he's shown good discipline, thus far, when he's been asked to go after the quarterback.

As I mentioned earlier, though, Newton is a specimen, someone who is hard to take down.

"I think he will be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. From just watching him, you have to be impressed," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You see a big guy in the pocket and we know he has a strong arm. He has great mobility and agility in the pocket and he has been accurate. Feels like he's pretty comfortable playing in the NFL. Most of the excitement when you talk about their team is based on what he's doing.

"It'll be a challenge for our team. We don't play many teams who get off the bus and their quarterback looks like Julius Peppers. We're excited about that."

It's a nice story, Dane Sanzenbacher's rise from undrafted rookie to one of the Bears top receivers.

He leads the Bears with two receiving touchdowns, and he's tied for second with nine catches.

Sanzenbacher admitted he didn't think he'd be such a big part of the offense so early.

"I wouldn't say it's awkward," he said. "But this isn't really a sport where your individual achievements are going to overshadow you losing games. You want to be a part of an offense that is making plays and getting wins. It's great to be on the field and make those plays. But you want to win ballgames at the end of the day.

"It's something we're all striving for."

That's the problem.

The Bears shouldn't be counting on an undrafted rookie to help them this early in the season. Sure, there have been injuries at the position, mainly to slot receiver Earl Bennett and veteran Roy Williams. But with those guys nicked up, the other receivers should be producing more.

Instead, Sanzenbacher has the only two touchdowns for a Bears receiver, with the other three coming from Matt Forte, Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis.

That's not a very good recipe for success in a passing offense.

Sanzenbacher isn't to blame; other than a key drop against the New Orleans Saints, he's shown good hands and made a couple of important and tough catches.

But he should be eased into the offense, or -- at the very least -- a player who gets in a handful of snaps. Instead, over the last two games, he's been targeted 14 times. That's the same number as Devin Hester, and behind only Forte (22) and Johnny Knox (15).

"When your number's called they expect you to make the play, and one thing that's been great about being here and this coaching staff is if they put you on the field, that means they trust you can make those plays," Sanzenbacher said. "So you can't really second-guess yourself when you're out there. When you're targeted you have to catch the ball."

That's an admirable comment from him. But other receivers should -- and need to -- step up.

Fate moves its huge hand closer to Bears panic button

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In his eighth season as the Bears' head coach, Lovie Smith knows the drill. Not only did he predictably avoid any hint of panic after the Bears' 27-17 loss to the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field, but he spent almost as much effort in his post-game new conference talking us off the ledge.

''We'll clean those things up."

"Third game of the season."

"We're not there yet."

"There's a lot of football left to go in the season."

"Give us time."

You can't blame Lovie for seeing it that way. But you don't have to watch the film to get the idea that Sunday's game said much more about the Bears than, as Smith put it, "They were better than us today."

The Packers' victory was yet another sign that this isn't 2010, when the Bears had so many things going their way. A year ago, the Bears won a similar game against the Packers. But that time the punt return for a touchdown wasn't called back by a penalty. The Packers weren't called for 18 penalties. The Bears didn't get the takeaway at the right time.

Where do the Bears stand after first 3 games?

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The Bears knew where they would stand, after playing three 2010 playoff teams.

The opponents were as challenging as any team could face, but the Bears would at least get the benefit of playing two of those games at Soldier Field.

Many figured 2-1 would be a good start. But 1-2 is their reality, and even more discouraging is the way they got there: a lot of the same problems from 2010, with a few new concerns cropping up.

The Bears struggled on third down, and they had problems establishing the run, protecting the quarterback and making routine catches.

There were also a litany of penalties and blown assignments.

But, the Bears run defense has also looked suspect, with Michael Turner gashing them in Week 1 and Green Bay Packers running back averaging 5.4 yards carry on Sunday, as his team reached 100 rushing yards on the nose.

That the Bears have dug a hole in the NFC North isn't a surprise; the Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions, and they're among the favorites to win this year. But the Packers have company atop the NFC North with the Detroit Lions a surprising 3-0.

The Bears face a must-win game next Sunday, as they host the Carolina Panthers, then they will play in a rare Monday night game in Detroit.

In other words, the Bears face a desperate situation, or else they could dig themselves too big a hole to dig out of.

Kurt Warner says Jay Cutler has gotten "gun shy"

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has shown a lot of courage, taking so much abuse. But former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner watched film of the Bears loss to the New Orleans Saints and noticed a troubling issue.

"As I watch the film last week of [Chicago] versus the Saints, I started to see a gunslinger that's gotten gun-shy. He's a guy that's starting to expect the pressure to be in the backfield," Warner said on NFL Network's game day morning show. "There's plenty of blame to go around but something's got to get fixed. They have to figure out something; somebody's got to do the right thing... There's so many different things going on right now. You can't just point the finger in one area."

Cutler has already been sacked a league-high 11 times, putting him on pace for the NFL record. David Carr's 76 sacks seems untouchable. But the Bears may threaten that dubious record if they can't shore up pass protection and other issues to prevent Cutler from taking so much abuse.

The Sporting News' Top 100: 3 Bears -- and 9 Packers

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The Bears and Packers appeared about as closely matched as two teams could be last year, when the longtime NFL rivals played three games that weren't decided until the final minute. But The Sporting News' annual list of the NFL's top 100 players indicates a bigger gap than that.

Last year both teams had three players on the list. This year the Bears have three, but the Packers have nine. And two of their repeat selections made significant jumps: quarterback Aaron Rodgers jumped from No. 13 to No. 1; and linebacker Clay Matthews went from No. 52 to No. 16.

The Bears' players in the top 100 are defensive end Julius Peppers (No. 14), middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (52) and weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (81). Peppers was unchanged from 2010. Urlacher was 70th last year. Briggs was 73rd.

Roy Williams fully participates in practice

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Bears receiver Roy Williams appears recovered from a groin injury that sidelined him for last Sunday's game in New Orleans.

Williams practiced in full Thursday, which bodes well for his chances to play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Asked what Williams brings, Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "A lot.

"Big receiver, good blocker. He's a good football player, and we need all of them this week against a great Packers team coming in here," he said. "Roy's made a lot of progress. It seems like he's ready to go."

Receiver Earl Bennett (chest) did not practice for a second consecutive day, and indications are he will not play Sunday. That would thrust rookie Dane Sanzenbacher back into the lineup, as a slot receiver.

Safety Major Wright (head) and right tackle Gabe Carimi also did not practice.

Bears running Marion Barber (calf), safety Chris Harris and guard Lance Louis were all limited in practice Thursday.

For the Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson did not practice again, after missing Wednesday's session. Defensvie end Ryan Pickett and cornerback Tramon Williams were limited.

Gabe Carimi disappointed he won't face the Packers

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Bears rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi was having a strong game Sunday in New Orleans.

"I graded really well out, while I was out there," Carimi said.

But Carimi left the game late in the second quarter, when he suffered a knee injury. Carimi wouldn't discuss the nature of the injury. But it's a dislocated right kneecap.

He also wouldn't provide a timetable, but he doesn't anticipate it affecting him much.

"I mean, you should be able to jump back into it. The biggest thing was switching from right to left, but now I'm comfortable at the right so hopefully I'll be able to jump right back in there," he said.

Asked if there's an inclination to return early from the injury, he said, "You always have to take track and make sure, when you come back, it's for the whole season.

"No one wants you to come back for a half a game, and then miss more. So you always have to watch that."

But Carimi said he knew his injury wasn't too serious right away. He tore his right MCL during his playing career at Wisconsin.

"I felt good walking off the field," he said. "There wasn't that serious, unstable feeling."

For Carimi, the timing is especially disappointing. A native of Wisconsin, he grew up a Packers fan, although he insisted he liked college football more and never wore a cheesehead.

"I was pretty excited to play the Packers this week, just because, growing up in Wisconsin, and being a Wisconsin guy. Looks like I don't get a shot at them this week," he said. "But we get to play them again, so I'm looking forward to that."

Veteran Frank Omiyale will start in his place.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo insisted that his club did plenty to address the offensive line during the offseason.

"We did everything you could possibly do to that position," Angelo told the team's website. "Nobody did more than the Chicago Bears. We drafted a player in the first round. We brought in a player with a lot of NFL experience who is still in his prime.

"We developed young players who are going into their second and third years, including another high draft pick in Chris Williams. We like our eight linemen. That's not an issue. Injuries happen, and then you have to adjust accordingly."

Angelo was referring to rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, who is sidelined for about a month with a dislocated right kneecap, as well as veteran veteran Chris Spencer, who started at right guard against the New Orleans Saints.

Despite a dreadful second half in which quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times, Angelo said the offensive line isn't entirely to blame.

"Everything bad that happened on Sunday wasn't all because of poor offensive line play. Believe me when I tell you that," he said. "It was a collective failure. The defense and special teams share part of that as well. So let's not beat up on the offensive line."

But with Carimi expected out and starting right guard Lance Louis still rehabbing an ankle injury, the Bears need veteran backups to step up and be effective.

NFL admits Sproles TD should have been reviewed

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The NFL confirmed Tuesday that a miscommunication breakdown between the replay booth and the on-field officials prevented a review of Darren Sproles' 12-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of the Bears' 30-13 loss to the Saints on Sunday at the Superdome.

Replays indicated Sproles stepped out of bounds outside of the 1-yard line as he tip-toed along the sideline into the end zone after taking a short pass from Drew Brees.

An NFL spokesman confirmed that the replay official Bill Spyksma called for a review. But because of a communications breakdown, the play was not reviewed. ''We are modifying the communication procedures to ensure it doesn't happen again,'' NFL senior vice-president of communications Greg Aiello said.

Desmond Clark's non-profit expands to Chicago

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By any measure of a man, Desmond Clark is a success.

He graduated from Wake Forest University, he's played 12 NFL seasons, and he's got a wife and twin daughters.

But, growing up in Lakeland, Fla., Clark said he depended on male mentors to fill a void, when his father wasn't a part of his life from age 7 to 17.

"I recognize that I didn't get here by myself," he said. "Nobody is self-made. Everybody had some help along the way.

"I had a bunch of men - mainly coaches - step up and become mentors to me. I see the importance of that."

To that end, Clark started 88 Wayz Youth Foundation, a non-profit established in 2008 that, among other things, provides mentorship and an afterschool program in Lakeland. But, Clark is expanding to Chicago, and he's hosting a private event tonight for distinguished guests, including Karen Yarbrough, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives.

In January, after winter break, 88 Wayz will open the after school program at Roosevelt Middle School in Bellwood and Catalyst Elementary Charter School in Chicago.

The Bears got mixed news on rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi.

He isn't lost for the season but tests revealed that he dislocated his right knee, according to a league source.

There's not believed to be any further damage. The projection is that the injury may sideline him for four weeks.

According to Web MD, a dislocation of the knee is rare, occurring after "major trauma."

"The bones of your calf (the tibia and fibula) get moved compared to the bone of your thigh (femur)," according to Web MD. "The bones of your knee are held together by strong bands of tissue, called ligaments. For a knee dislocation to happen, these bands have to tear."

The suggestion is that immobilization is necessary, usually requiring crutches.

Web MD also suggests that many dislocations require surgery. But it's unclear if Carimi will need it.

This may sound eerily familiar to the Bears.

In 2002, Marc Colombo, the 29th overall pick of the Bears, suffered a dislocated knee but also suffered femoral nerve damage in November. He was placed on the injured reserve and also missed the entire 2003 season.

After appearing in the 2005 opener, Colombo was waived by the Bears and signed by the Dallas Cowboys, where he started all 16 games for three consecutive seasons.

He's now with the Miami Dolphins.

Close game crumbles into huge loss

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With the exception of one drive by the offense and a few timely stops by the defense, the Bears were thoroughly outplayed in the first half.

Still, they trailed just 16-10.

Then, they regained momentum in the third quarter, with the defense forcing two three-and-outs and the offense cobbling together a scoring drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.

But, with the score 16-13, the Saints rattled off the next 17 points. And, by and large, the Saints called off the dogs early in the fourth quarter.

"I thought our energy and our effort overcame some of the early mistakes we made," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Here are the red-flag concerns, in my opinion:

* Third downs -- Both on offense and defense. Let's start with the latter.

When the game mattered, the Saints were six of 12. All three Saints' touchdowns were on third down, most notably a 3rd and 12, when Drew Brees connected with Devery Henderson for a 79-yard strike.
Here are a

On the flip side, the Bears were two of 12.

Enough said.

* The Bears attempted 12 runs -- That's for the game. After attempting 10 in the first half for 49 yards (most of them on a 42-yarder by Matt Forte), the Bears tried two more in the third and that's it. Sure, those two runs netted a loss of one yard. But, given the pressure Jay Cutler was under, the Bears needed to blend in some more runs. Long-established offenses like the Patriots or the Colts can get away with not running the ball. But the Bears obviously cannot. Cutler attempted 45 passes. That's not a good recipe for the Bears.

Cutler was sacked six times. But five of those were in the fourth quarter, when the Bears were desperately trying to get back in. I think the greater concern was blitz recognition, which is a little more encouraging than saying the players just aren't athletic enough to get the job done.

* The Bears are holding their breath on injuries. Not only did Chris Harris, Roy Williams and Marion Barber miss the game, Bears receiver Earl Bennett (chest), right tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and safety Major Wright (head) could not finish the game. They got through last season, relatively unscathed, but the Bears are having some serious ones now.

As if the concern at safety weren't bad enough, now it's even more heightened with Wright's status up in the air.

* Lastly, the Bears defense and special teams were fairly quiet. The special teams played to a draw with the Saints, while the defense didn't play with nearly the same intensity as the season opener.

Here's the ultimate insult.

"I made the comment on the sideline that I wouldn't want to play against [Saints defense]today," receiver Devery Henderson said. "They were real physical out there. I love to see that from our defense."

Harris, Williams, Barber, Louis inactive vs. Saints

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The Bears will be without three starters against the New Orleans Saints today at the Superdome: safety Chris Harris (hamstring), wide receiver Roy Williams (groin) and right guard Lance Louis (ankle). All three were injured in the Bears' 30-12 victory over the Falcons last week at Soldier Field.

Running back Marion Barber (calf), defensive end Corey Wootton (knee), rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea and quarterback Nathan Enderle also will be inactive today.

New York Life Protection Index has Bears out of basement

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Last season, in the inaugural New York Life powered by Northbrook-based STATS LLC, the Bears finished last.

After Week 1, the Bears have moved out of the basement, although not that far. They are currently ranked 26th in the NFL.

But here's the thing. The No. 1 team? It's the Detroit Lions. In fact, they are the only team above 100.

The Green Bay Packers are No. 9, while the Minnesota Vikings have taken over the last spot from the Bears.

The actual index can be viewed by clicking here

The Saints are currently third in the NFL, with a 90. 1. Last season, they were second with an 81.0.

Grieving Urlacher returns, will play vs. Saints

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Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to Halas Hall on Thursday after leaving the team to spent time with his family after the sudden death of his mother, Lavoyda Urlacher, on Monday. He is expected to play on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Even after Urlacher left to grieve with his family, it was expected that he would play against the Saints. But teammates were surprised to see him back so quickly.

''Brian's a warrior,'' defensive tackle Henry Melton said Thursday. ''I don't even know how I would handle that kind of loss. I reach out to him. It's a tough situation. He's amazing to be back [after two days].''

Brian Urlacher at Halas Hall Thursday

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Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher re-joined his teammates today at Halas Hall, according to a league source.

Urlacher was away from the team on Wednesday, as he spent time with family, after the passing of his mother on Monday.

"My mother, Lavoyda, unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas," Urlacher said in the statement. "My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest.

"This is a very difficult and emotional time for us, and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy."

Those close to Urlacher to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Wherever the funeral will be held, Urlacher will likely be joined by some teammates and coaches, given how deeply respected and liked at Halas Hall.

"I know sometimes when you're going through tough times, the best thing for you to do is get back to something you like doing, and football is very important to Brian," coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said his team is planning on Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to play on Sunday.

"You have to prepare as if he's going to play," Brees said. "If they don't, then you change gears."

Brees offered his condolences to Urlacher and his family, and he noted the passing of his mother in August 2009, during training camp.

"It was a sudden thing. Very unexpected," Brees said of the death of his mother, Mina. "So I left training camp immediately, to be with my brother and my family. On two different occasions, I had to leave for a period of time, to be with family and to go to her memorial service and help plan that."

Brees, though, added that he wanted to return to his teammates and his job.

"I can tell you this. For me, as hard as that was and as much as I needed to be with my family at that time, the guys in the locker room - your teammates - are also a part of your family too," he said. "So a big part of my healing was coming back and being with the guys in the locker room and obviously getting back to playing football, because I know that's what she loved watching me do."

Bears hopeful grieving Urlacher will play vs. Saints

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Brian Urlacher did not practice Wednesday and probably won't on Thursday after leaving the team to spend time with his family after the sudden death of his mother Monday. Lavoyda Urlacher was 53.

Coach Lovie Smith said he does not know if Urlacher will return in time to play against the Saints on Sunday. It's unlikely that Urlacher will miss the game. But if he does, Nick Roach would probably move from the strong side to the middle to replace Urlacher, with Brian Iwuh playing the strong side.

''Right now we're just there supporting Brian,'' Smith said. ''He's there with his family, which I want him to do. He'll let us know where we're going from there.''

Lovie Smith hopeful Marion Barber can play vs. Saints

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Bears running back Marion Barber practiced Wednesday and coach Lovie Smith said he is hopeful that Barber and wide receiver Sam Hurd will play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans.

Both players missed last Sunday's 30-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.

Barber has been out since suffering a calf injury in the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

''Good to get Marion Barber back on the field, as it was Sam Hurd,'' Smith said after practice Wednesday. ''Hopefully we'll have those guys available this week.''

New Bears safety Brandon Meriweather has tried to blend in nicely and quietly with his new team.

But on Monday, the Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., reported that a Mississippi man is free on $10,000 cash bail after allegedly raping a woman this summer in Meriweather's Foxboro home.

"It's a serious matter, and I hope it gets resolved soon," Meriweather told the Sun-Times. "But it has nothing to do with me.

"For me personally, I'm just going to sit here and focus on the Saints."

Meriweather declined further comment on the matter.

The Sun Chronicle reported that there's a Sept. 20 pre-trial conference in Wrentham District Court on a rape charge brought against James Roberts, 29, of 2068 Greater Ave., Biloxi, Miss., according to David Traub, spokesman for Norfolk County District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.

Traub told the paper that the alleged attack occurred July 13, and that the suspect pleaded innocent during his Aug. 25 arraignment.

Meriweather has not been charged.

"There has been no allegation against anyone but Roberts," Traub told the Sun-Chronicle.

Brian Urlacher's mother unexpectedly passes away

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Lavoyda Urlacher unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

"My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest," Urlacher said in a statement. "This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you."

Urlacher will be excused from the team and is not at Halas Hall today.

Brian Urlacher excused from team

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Bears Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has been excused from the team to deal with a private family matter.

At this point, it's unclear how long he'll be gone. But his absence will test easily the unit with the least depth on the team.

Currently, undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco is the backup.

I can't see the Bears turning to him, if Urlacher can't play against the New Orleans Saints.

Strongside linebacker Nick Roach did fill in, when Urlacher missed 15 games in 2009. Swing him inside, and then Brian Iwuh could play strongside.

Weakside linebacker Lance Briggs also could play the spot, given his familiarity with the defense. But then that would create a domino effect.

The other option would be start Iwuh, who has played that position in the past, when he was in Jacksonville. Iwuh has proven to be a very reliable and serviceable defensive player, as well as a standout on special teams.

But, my expectation is that Roach will handle the middle while Iwuh steps in for him on the strongside.

Why Chris Spencer should start vs. Saints

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As a rookie starter with the Bears in 1983, Jimbo Covert spoke for just about every offensive tackle who ever played in the NFL after he was benched midway through his fourth professional game in Baltimore.

''If I could go out and buy experience, I would. But you can't,'' he said. ''You just have to go through the season.''

Covert, a first-round pick from Pittsburgh who would become one of the greatest tackles in team history, was just as unflappable then as Gabe Carimi is today. But he still had to go through that first season.

Brian Urlacher status unclear due to personal matter

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Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is dealing with a personal matter, and his status for the next few days is uncertain, according to two sources.

Urlacher is coming off a brilliant performance in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, when he made a key diving interception late in the first quarter and recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

He also led the Bears with 10 tackles.

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Urlacher grew up in Lovington, New Mexico and starred at at the University of New Mexico.

Does the Bears' defense have staying power?

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The Bears probably can't count on three takeaways and one defensive touchdown a week. But their defensive effort in a 30-12 season-opening victory over the Atlanta Falcons wasn't done with mirrors - which might help answer the obvious question after Week 1: Can the Bears keep this up?

The Bears had five sacks and 11 quarterback hurries -- including two sacks and seven QB hurries by defensive tackle Henry Melton. Julius Peppers had two sacks, a QB hurry, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. And their depth was evident: Amobi Okoye had a sack and Nick Reed had a pass defense.

''Our D-line was great,'' said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who scored on a 12-yard fumble recovery and also had an interception and a tackle-for-loss among his 10 tackles.

Bears kick off 23rd annual coat drive

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Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher appreciates simplicity, which is why he's so supportive of the team's annual coat drive.

Grab some jackets and coats, and drop them off at any number of Jewel-Osco locations in the area, Urlacher said.

Besides, Urlacher embraces the drive because it's led by head equipment manager Tony Medlin.

"It's very important to him, as you can tell, so it's important to us," Urlacher said.

Medlin said they received 25,000 gently used jackets and coats last year, and they hope to top that number this year. Donations will be accepted from Monday through Dec. 4.

The Salvation Army is grateful.

"What's great for us is, great organizations like the Bears and Jewel come together, and resources are allowed to meet need," said Major Greg Thompson of the Salvation Army.

There will not be a collection at any games, given the success of the drop offs at the Jewel-Osco stores, Medlin said.

A store locator can be found by clicking on this link

Bears' rout: a harbinger of things to come?

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I asked Lovie Smith last week how defining the season opener has been from his perspective as head coach. The years his team won the first game they were very defining, he said. The years his team lost, ''it's not that important,'' he added.

He was kidding.

''Seriously, I don't think you can put too much [into it]. It is one game and no more than that,'' he said.

The good news for Bears fans after Sunday's three-phase-strong 30-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons is that historically, the Bears' opener has been a harbinger of things to come. Rarely have the Bears fooled us on opening day -- and that goes back to the Halas era.

I picked the Bears to win, but I only projected them to win by a touchdown.

Instead, the Bears throttled the Atlanta Falcons 30-12. It was a somewhat surprising outcome, since the Falcons were one of the trendy picks do fare well in the NFC this season. Certainly, they were far more popular than the Bears, a team that I could hardly recall any analyst picking to win the NFC North, let alone even make the playoffs.

It is only one game, but the Bears made a strong statement against a talented team.

You can see my two keys and two concerns here

But, here are four other things that stood out to me:

1) The Bears key defensive unit has some depth. The defensive line really stood out, beyond the obvious reasons (five sacks, most notably). They waved seven different players into a game in which field temperatures were in the 80s. In the fourth quarter, they still looked fresh. Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton are young players they were excited about, and they both delivered. Meanwhile, older veterans like Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers made plays. But the Bears also got meaningful contributions from newcomer Amobi Okoye and Nick Reed. The latter, in fact, ensures that they don't have to rush Corey Wootton back from his minor knee surgery.

Barber, Hurd, Wootton, Paea inactive vs. Falcons

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Defensive end Corey Wootton, rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea, running back Marion Barber and wide receiver Sam Hurd were among the seven Bears players on the inactive list for the season opener against the Falcons today at Soldier Field.

Quarterback Nathan Enderle, guard Edwin Williams and rookie defensive end Mario Addison also will not play today.

With both Wootton and Addison inactive, Nick Reed figures to get significant snaps as the No. 3 defensive end behind Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.

Put your score on record

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I got Bears beating the Atlanta Falcons 24-17. What about you?

Jay Cutler embraces the onslaught

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In today's paper, I focused on Jay Cutler and his leadership. Many analysts have taken swipes at him about him lacking in that department.

But what was really telling, in my opinion, was his answer when I asked him about blaming teammates for costly mistakes.

"I can't even fathom myself doing it. It's just not who I am, and it's not how I was brought up," Cutler told me. "I'm going to take all the punches, I'm going to take all the bullets and I'm going to take all the hits, and whether it's deserved or not, it just comes with the position.

"If you're going to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears or any team, whether you like it or not, it's a part of the gig."

The entire story is here

I think it was also interesting to hear comments from his teammates, which went beyond stock quotes.

Lance Briggs to show his patriotism

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Bears linebacker Lance Briggs is willing to pay a fine so he can show his patriotism on Sunday, the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11.

Briggs said he's going to wear red, white and blue cleats and gloves from Reebok, even though the NFL's uniform policy prohibits players from deviating from pre-selected colors.

So once the breast cancer game is played, players can wear pi... on Twitpic

"By far the best fine I will ever have to pay," Briggs wrote on his Twitter account a little after 7:30 p.m.

But a league spokesman said that won't be necessary.

"He will not be fined," the spokesman said.

Rod Marinelli sets bar high for the defense

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Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli knows what it's like to work with an elite defense, given his time in Tampa.

But Marinelli has no problems with his current defenders having lofty goals.

"I think the biggest thing is you set bars. You set a bar, and high," he said. "Guys who are very competitive will try to get to that bar.

"I think the biggest challenge is just day-to-day consistency," Marinelli later said. "They're a highly-talented group. There's no doubt about it. It's down in and down out, playing at an extremely high level."

One player who could help is two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather. But Marinelli, like head coach Lovie Smith, isn't showing his hand on what the expectation is for the veteran.

"It's just kind of week to week, really," Marinelli said. "You get him in and everything is swimming. You're throwing everything [at him]. [He's] a real smart guy. I think he understands everything we're doing. But now it's just doing it; the repetition of doing it, the run fits and all those things."

For now, though, the Bears focus is on the Atlanta Falcons, a club that boasts a dangerous offense.

"They are a team that's got a lot of weapons," Marinelli said. "But I think it really starts with that front. It's a very, very tough front."

Chris Harris: 'We plan on being a top-3 defense'

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The Bears return nine starters from a defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed. With potential upgrades at safety (Brandon Meriweather for Danieal Manning) and defensive tackle (Henry Melton for Tommie Harris), the Bears are thinking they can be even better in 2012.

''We plan on being a top-three defense in this league,'' safety Chris Harris said. ''I think it's great for us to raise the bar the way we do. It's great that guys definitely up to the challenge.''

Bears five undrafted rookies most in NFL

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After the lockout wiped out most of the offseason, many NFL observers expected undrafted rookies to be among the players hurt most.

But with the regular season set to kickoff tonight between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, 58 undrafted rookies are on NFL rosters, the most since 2003.

And the Bears lead all NFL teams with five: receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, defensive end Mario Addison, linebacker Dom DeCicco, tight end Kyle Adams and safety Winston Venable.

The Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks are tied for second with four undrafted players apiece.

Marion Barber unlikely to play vs. Falcons

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Running back Marion Barber did not practice Wednesday and it appears unlikely the former Cowboys running back will play Sunday when the Bears open the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.

Barber, who rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries in the first two preseason games, suffered a calf injury in the first half against the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 27 and has not practiced or played since.

''We're running out of time a little bit for Marion,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ''But he's feeling a little better. So hopefully we'll be able to get him on the field before long.''

Pushed by Knox, Roy Williams says he's ready to go

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After an unimpressive preseason, Bears wide receiver Roy Williams is confident he'll produce when the bell rings Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.

''Am I unsure? Heck no. I'm good. I'm comfortable. I'm going to be ready to make plays,'' Williams said as he chilled out in the Bears' locker room at Halas Hall. ''I know if I mess up or anything it's going to be blown out of proportion. I'm not the perfect player. I'm going to mess up. But other than that, I"m ready to go.''

Running back Matt Forte said he is "disappointed" that he didn't sign an extension with the Bears, especially since this the NFL is a production based.

"Coming in to the league, you feel like this is supposed to be production-based. And when you produce in the offense, you expect the team or the organization to actually notice that compared to other guys," Forte said. "We just couldn't meet in the middle."

Asked to term the negotiations, Forte said, "I wouldn't say friendly or antagonistic or anything like that.

"It's a negotiation. That's the only word I can come up with."

Forte said he isn't overly concerned about the risk of injury. Forte has played in all 16 games in each of his three NFL seasons. He's set to make $600,000 this year.

"You can't go out there worried about that. If that was true, you'd go out there every game since my rookie year trying not to worry about getting injured. 'Maybe I won't get to my fourth year in the league,' or something like that. You can't worry about that," he said.

Forte, though, doesn't blame general manager Jerry Angelo, who expressed optimism at the start of training camp.

"I don't think he lied. We tried to get a deal done," Forte said. "It was just, maybe they have a different view of the type of player I am than the type of player that they think I am."

Angelo told WBBM and the team's website that contract talks were finished for the season but Forte said he operates as if the door is still open to getting an extension completed.

"I guess it wasn't mutual. But that was his decision. I can't really decide if we continue to talk or not," Forte said. "He's the one we talk to, so the door's always open on my end."

Roberto Garza voted captain

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The Bears voted for captains and, with one exception, the group hasn't changed.

Roberto Garza replaces Olin Kreutz, not only at center but as an offensive captain.

Players voted quarterback Jay Cutler, long-snapper Pat Mannelly, defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Brian Urlacher as the team's captains. The four above mentioned players were captains last season, too.

Jay Cutler is ready for some football

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had his season-opening press conference today at Halas Hall. Here are some highlights:

* On getting this season started: "It's been kind of up and down this offseason with the lockout, and then having to rush through camp and have to squeeze everything in. I think everyone is excited in the building, to finally kick it off and get the season going."

* On the challenge of the Atlanta Falcons: "They're a solid team. You don't win 13, 14 games in a season, if you're not. They have everyone back, and they added another defensive end to help them out, so it's a tough team. You watch them on film, and they don't make a lot of mistakes. They're very solid. They show you a lot of different looks. They're experienced, and they play well."

* On the state of the offense: "You know, it's only the season year for a lot of the guys in this offense, and we got some new guys that are just coming into it. We're still growing, we're still figuring things out, we're still learning by experience, so we just got to go out there and play mistake free football. We're going to mess up some plays, and have some mentals out there. We just got to limit them."

* On his goals: "You don't want to throw out numbers because if you don't hit them, then you're going to be a little disappointed. Keep the interceptions down, keep the completion completition percentage high, and then hopefully everything else takes care of itself and we win some football games."

* On his comfort level with his offensive line: "Played well. Played really well. We're going to have a few bumps in the road, I'm sure this year, with those guys, probably the first game. Just getting them settled down and comfortable. But I have al the faith in the world in them. They're a very talented group. Got some older guys and some younger guys. They're going to have to learn as they go. But they're all we've got, so we got to go with them."

The Bears are done talking about a contract extension with running back Matt Forte until the 2011 season ends, general manager Jerry Angelo told WBBM Monday.

"It's the team's prerogative, not to negotiate," Forte's agent Adisa Bakari said. "Matt's going to do his best to focus on the season."

All along, Forte was hoping to get a new contract, since he's clearly out-performed his rookie deal, which was set to pay him $550,000 this season. By contrast, backup Chester Taylor, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent, made $7 million in guarantees in his one and only season with the Bears.

It's unclear how much Forte wanted. But, it clearly was more than the $13 to $14 million the Bears reportedly had on the table, according to ESPN Chicago.

"Matt was only desiring to be compensated at a level that matches his production," Bakari said. "We know what comparable running backs have been paid. And Matt was seeking that level of competition.

"Nothing more, nothing less."

Angelo told WBBM that after working toward a deal, the Bears are now going to focus on the season.

"That's something we talked about when we went into the negotiations," Angelo said. "We were hopeful. Not saying the door is shut. But right now our focus is going to be on the season."

We've spent a lot of time trying to work out an extension with Matt, and his agent did as much work as he could do. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to come to an agreement at this point, so we've decided that we're just going to focus on the season," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo told WBBM radio on Monday night. " That's something we talked about when we went into the negotiations.

We were hopeful. Not saying the door is shut. But right now our focus is going to be on the season."

Pro Bowl safety Meriweather glad to be a Bear

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A cheery Brandon Meriweather is as thrilled to be a Bear as the Bears are thrilled to have him. But we'll have to wait until Sunday at the earliest to get answers to the most pertinent questions surrounding the Bears acquisition of the two-time Pro Bowl safety -- like just how much of an upgrade will he be on a defense that already is among the best in the NFL?

''It feels tremendous to come in and all the guys showed me a lot of love when I got here,'' said Meriweather, a four-year starter for the New England Patriots who was released Saturday. "To be playing with an old teammate like Devin Hester [at the University of Miami], it just feels great.''

Meriweather made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons, though that can be a specious measurement of a player's standing in the NFL. Still, for him to get cut by the Patriots after being a starter still opened some eyes.

What should we be asking at Halas Hall this week?

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Finally, it's Game Week at Halas Hall. The roster is set -- for now, at least. And the Bears can turn their attention to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons instead of Matt Forte's contract, Lance Briggs' trade request/demand, the Soldier Field turf, the absence of Olin Kreutz, and whether or not Chester Taylor was released.


We know we don't have all the answers. But do we even have all the questions? Probably not.

So what should we be asking this week at Halas Hall? Here's a list for starters:

1. Will Lance Briggs play on Sunday?

Bears set practice squad -- for now at least

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The Bears announced they have signed seven players to the practice squad, leaving them one spot available.

The seven players: wide receiver Kris Adams, guard Ricky Henry, offensive tackle Levi Horn, defensive tackle Jordan Miller, tight end Andre Smith, linebacker Patrick Trahan and safety Anthony Walters.

The Bears still have to drop a player from their 53-man roster to make room for safety Brandon Meriweather. That puts rookie safety Winston Venable back on the bubble. It's a tough life trying to make an NFL team, and even tougher trying to stay on one.

Players are eligible for the practice squad if they do not have an accrued NFL season (six games on the roster); or have fewer than nine games on the active list over multiple accrued seasons. Players are limited to two seasons on the practice squad in most cases. The minimum salary is $5,700 per week ($96,900 per season). Players on the practice squad can be signed by other teams, but only to that team's 53-man roster, and for a minimum of three weeks.

Last year, the Bears wanted to put rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour on the practice squad, but he was claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals. LeFevour was cut by the Bengals on Saturday and signed to their practice squad Sunday.

Current Bears players on the 53-man roster who played on the practice squad: Israel Idonije, Zack Bowman, Kahlil Bell and Will Ta'ufo'ou.

Bears to sign Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather

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The Bears have "agreed to terms" with two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather on a one-year contract Sunday, taking a virtually free shot -- a la Roy Williams, Amobi Okoye and Marion Barber -- that a change in scenery will bring out the best in a talented but hit-and-miss player.

Meriweather, a 2007 first-round pick by the Patriots (24th overall), was cut by New England on Saturday.

At best, Meriweather can challenge Major Wright for the starting free-safety job and provide depth at safety if Chris Harris does not return next season. He's played in all 67 of the Patriots' games during his four seasons in New England. His 12 interceptions in the past three seasons are the fourth most by a safety in the NFL in that span.

But Meriweather also comes with some red flags:

Nine rookies make Bears roster; Dez Clark, Taylor cut

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Nine rookies made the Bears' 53-man roster Saturday, including five who were signed as undrafted free agents. But with only five linebackers on the roster after the Bears made their cutdown-to-53, a few of the bubble players who received good news Saturday will have to sweat out the next couple of days before celebrating.

There were no big surprises among the cuts. Tight end Dez Clark, a surprise addition to training camp after falling out of favor with the coaching staff last year, was cut. Running back Chester Taylor, figured to be on the bubble ever since the Bears signed Marion Barber early in camp, also was cut. Fourth-year defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was on the bubble after arriving in camp overweight and missing the first few days of practice. Linebacker J.T. Thomas, the only drafted rookie to not make the roster, was put on the reserve/injured list.

The five undrafted rookies to make the 53-man roster is the most since the 1970 merger and probably the most in team history: wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, defensive end Mario Addison, tight end/h-back Kyle Adams, linebacker Dom DeCicco and safety Winston Venable.

Chester Taylor informed of his release

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

The move, which was expected, saves the Bears $1.25 million but it also punctuates another disappointing free agent pick up from 2010. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was released before training camp. He completed just one season of a five-year, $15 million contract that guaranteed him $6.1 million.

Taylor signed a four-year, $12.5 million deal that included $7 million in guarantees.

Taylor had the worst season of his career, averaging 2.4 yards per carry in 2010. But, coaches defended Taylor's play and professionalism.

Taylor's agent, Ken Sarnoff, posted on his Twitter account that Kevin Turks, of the Bears personnel department, informed him of the news.

Taylor survives first wave of Bears roster cuts

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There were no surprises as the Bears announced Friday they have cut 14 players to pare their roster to 65. But it's worth noting that running back Chester Taylor wasn't among them.

Taylor, who is thought to have been beaten out by Kahlil Bell, still has a chance to make the 53-man roster. He is scheduled to make $1.25 million this season, but that is not guaranteed until Sept. 11, when the Bears begin the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons. It's possible the Bears could keep Taylor, wait for the roster-cut dust to settle around the league and see if another team needs a proven running back coming off a tough season in a developing offense.

The list of players cut Friday: guard linebackers Tressor Baptiste, Chris Johnson and Deron Minor, cornerbacks Antareis Bryan and Ryan Jones, wide receivers Andy Fantuz, Onrea Jones and Jimmy Young, fullback Eddie Williams, center Alex Linnenkohl, offensive tackle Josh Davis and guard Johan Asiata.

The Bears have to make 12 more cuts by Saturday to get down to the 53-man roster.

Rookie WR Sanzenbacher shines in grand finale

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When Dane Sanzenbacher turned around after returning a punt 66 yards for a touchdown in the Bears' 24-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night at Soldier Field, he was disappointed to see a penalty flag that brought it back.

But not that disappointed. Though the return was nullified, it doesn't mean the play didn't happen.

That's the beauty of preseason football. Everything is on film, whether it counted or not.

''It was great,'' Sanzenbacher said about the punt return. ''Anything you can do to try to turn heads at this point is a positive step. You hate to see the flag on the ground when you turn around. But I can't remember the last time I returned a punt. It was probably in high school. So it was pretty cool being out there and doing it.''

Closer look at backup running backs

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MTV could have gotten some solid ratings if they had done a reality show on the Bears running backs this week.

Matt Forte is still looking for a contract extension.

Chester Taylor is trying to make sense of a wacky week.

And Marion Barber is nursing a calf injury.

Then, fittingly, Thursday night stuck to the theme.

Kahlil Bell left the game with an ankle injury, and unheralded rookie Robert Hughes emerged from the shadows with a strong performance.

So where do things stand?

I certainly don't know for sure. But here's my assessment of the situation.

Forte told me he's going to play in the season opener, regardless of whether he gets a contract extension or not.

The indications I've gotten on Barber is that his injury isn't serous.

Bell did leave the game but it seemed more precautionary than anything else.

"I feel good," Bell said. "We got a couple of days to rest."

Bell didn't have a great game Thursday (he had eight carries for 26 yards), but he was strong in the previous preseason games, and he's an asset on special teams -- something that distinguishes him from Barber or Taylor.

"Since I've been here, there's always been somebody else who was supposed to be here and I wasn't," Bell said of his roster standing. "But, at the same time, I'm still here, and until otherwise proven, I'm going to be here."

Indications remain that Taylor will not be a Bear after Saturday, whether via a trade or release.

But Taylor was nothing but professional in his post-game comments.

Asked if he's been disappointed by how he's been used, especially after signing a four-year, $12.5 million contract last year, Taylor said, "I'm not disappointed.

"I mean, the coaches are going to play me however they see fit. I mean, whatever they want me to do, I'm just going to do."

Asked if Thursday was awkward, given his strange week, Taylor said, "No, it wasn't awkward.

"I knew it was going to play today. That's all that matters. I just tried to do my best today."

Taylor said he doesn't know his status, adding "it's not my decision.

"You got to ask them."

But, Taylor did acknowledge that he appreciated getting more of an opportunity to play. In the first two preseason games, he got three carries in each. Then, he didn't play last weekend in Nashville.

So did he get a chance to show the Bears what he could do?

"I believe tonight I did," he said. "But, the other couple games, I only had three carries, so it wasn't too much I could do then. But I believe tonight I did."

While he may not make the final roster, the clear winner of Thursday night, among the Bears running backs, was Hughes.

The former Notre Dame standout finished with a game-high 16 carries for 69 yards, including two touchdowns, as well as two catches for 26 yards.

"It felt great," Hughes said. "It's just a great feeling cause I was in there with some of the guys who are in similar positions. It was great because it was a great moment for everybody on the team."

Hughes, if nothing else, certainly would seem at least a fit for the Bears practice squad, although another club could be impressed by his film from Thursday night.

What to watch in Bears' preseason finale

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

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