Chicago Sun-Times

January 2012 Archives

In 2010, Perry Fewell could have become the defensive coordinator of the Bears or the Giants.

Despite being the Bears defensive backs coach in 2005, Fewell decided not to return to Chicago and instead headed to New Jersey.

"I love Lovie Smith and enjoyed my time in Chicago," he said, [but] I knew that was coach Smith's defense. He is an excellent defensive coach and I just thought that at the time, I probably needed to step out on my own and run my own defense.

"It was always going to be coach Smith's defense and if I was going to make my mark in coaching I had to do it Perry Fewell's way, and that was one of the main reasons I came to New York."

Still, Fewell said he considers Smith "like a brother," and the decision was still a hard one.

"Probably the most difficult decision I've had to make, because Lovie Smith means a whole lot to me," he said.

Specifically, Fewell said he learned how to deal with players and people under Smith.

"That experience is probably the best growth experience I've had in the National Football League, as far as how to handle tough situations and how to be a professional," Fewell said.

Chiefs denied Bears request to speak to Jim Zorn

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Phil Emery wasn't the only member of the Kansas City Chiefs the Bears were interested in lately.

According to a league source, the Bears requested permission to speak to Chiefs quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn about the same position. But, the Chiefs denied that request.

Because the Chiefs season was over, they could not block Emery -- the team's college scouting director -- from interviewing for the Bears' general manager vacancy. But, general manager Scott Pioli talked to the Sun-Times about Emery at the Senior Bowl last week.

Zorn joined the Chiefs last offseason. Although head coach Todd Haley was fired, the Chiefs apparently like Zorn enough that they don't want him to leave.

The Bears are expected to interview Alex Van Pelt for the quarterbacks coach/ passing game coordinator opening soon.

Bears' Emery says little -- just like a real NFL GM

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Phil Emery was doing what any other general manager with a plan does when he said virtually nothing at his introductory press conference Monday at Halas Hall. The only reason people took notice was because Emery used so many words to say it.

Exactly 6,132 words, if you're into numerical numbers. And for the record, not one of them was ''Packers.'' Not even when he was asked directly about closing the gap between the Bears and the Packers did Emery mention the Packers. Doesn't he at least deserve points for that?

While it might have been nice for Emery to throw his new-found weight around at least a little and put Lovie Smith and others in the Bears organization on notice that the status quo will not be tolerated, it was hardly a surprise that he didn't even come close.

But that's not necessarily a cause for hand-wringing and other levels of concern ranging from skepticism to a sense of impending doom that the Bears just re-hired Jerry Angelo. While there's great frustration among fans that the Bears have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons (they're one of only 24 teams since 1980 to do that after playing in the Super Bowl), let's not forget that Jay Cutler's broken thumb was the only reason Emery was standing at the lectern in the ''Mugs'' Halas auditorium in the first place.

Patriots personnel head talks about Jason Licht

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Licht, the New England Patriots pro personnel director, was a finalist for the Bears GM position.

According to a Patriots spokesman, Licht was not made available to speak at the infamous Super Bowl Media Day. But, Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio had some brief comments on him.

"He's got a great feel and a great knowledge and understanding of the league and players, and he works well with our staff," Caserio said of Licht. "He's done a nice job for us, since he's come back."

Asked about the Bears possibility, Caserio said, "Jason is well respected in the league.

"He's got a lot of experience. A lot of people who have worked with him had a lot of positive things to say. So we're glad we have him."

The Bears interviewed Licht for a second time last Thursday. But, they named Phil Emery the team's fifth general manager on Saturday and introduced him at a press conference at Halas Hall on Monday.

Ted Phillips explains why he hired Phil Emery as GM

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Bears president Ted Phillips did his due diligence in finding a general manager after Phillips fired Jerry Angelo two days after the 2011 season. Why did he hire Phil Emery?

''What stood out with Phil was the depth of his plan,'' Phillips said Monday at Halas Hall. ''[All five candidates who were interviewed] stated kind of a general vision on how to make the Bears a championship team. But he had an added depth of understanding of what it would take on every level. That's what really stood out.

What was the depth of his vision?

''There's so many different factors,'' Phillips said. ''I think part of it comes from his variety of experiences that he's had. He's worked for a lot of good people and he's taken different aspects of that. But he's his own man. I think you saw it there today. He has good presence. He is not afraid to state what he feels and his convictions and that came through in the interview process.''

New GM Phil Emery just the guy Bears were looking for

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You were expecting Bill Parcells or Bill Cowher?

Phil Emery looked the part Monday at Halas Hall: the nice, safe, typical Bears choice as their new general manager: He's not Jerry Angelo; He embraced Lovie Smith as his head coach; He likes the scouting staff and everything else at Halas Hall; He's a team player who won't throw his new-found weight around; he offered good ideas with no specifics; and he's a first-time GM whom the Bears didn't have to break the bank to sign.

Those are first impressions based upon Emery's introductory press conference. Sometimes those can be deceiving. If the Bears fail to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons since going to the Super Bowl in 2006, then we'll know if the earth has moved at Halas Hall. Or if they've just hired a new Jerry Angelo with a little better stage presence.

Other than that, there wasn't much to go on. Emery wants to win championships. He wants to build a consistent contender. He plans to build through the draft. He will specify roles for everybody under his authority and hold them responsible for meeting specified standards. There was no further insight into the ''depth of vision'' that separated him from the other candidates Ted Phillips considered for the job.

That doesn't mean he'll fail. It just means he's no different than any other general manager or personnel honcho the Bears have hired since Jim Finks left the organization in 1984 after acquiring 21 starters who would win Super Bowl XX.

Here are some of the highlights from Emery's press conference:

The Bears will interview former NFL quarterback Alex Van Pelt for its quarterbacks coach/ passing game coordinator opening, according to a league source.

But Van Pelt has other suitors, according to NFL Network. The St. Louis Rams, the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers have also inquired about him.

Van Pelt was a star at the University of Pittsburgh, where he broke several of Dan Marino's records. But, he mostly served as a backup during his NFL career, throwing 16 touchdowns against 24 interceptions.

In 2001, he started eight games for the Miami Dolphins, but he went just 2-6.

Van Pelt started his coaching career as a volunteer at the University of Buffalo in 2005. But he got his first NFL job in 2006, when he was the offensive quality control coach for the Bills.

He finished the 2009 season as the Bills offensive coordinator, after Turk Schonert was fired in September.

Van Pelt served as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach the last two seasons.

One high-level person groomed by Jerry Angelo doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Cliff Stein, who is nearing his 10th anniversary with the Bears, got strong votes of confidence from team president Ted Phillips and new general manager Phil Emery.

"Over the years, Cliff has played an increasingly important role, and he'll continue to do that," Phillips said Monday. "Like Phil, he's organized, and detailed, and well-respected, so I think he'll serve us well."

Stein's title since May 2007 is Senior Director of Football Administration and General Counsel. But, in football speak, he's the team's salary cap administrator and contract negotiator, and he's distinguished himself as one of the league's best.

Stein's expertise will be valuable to Emery, whose primary background is in college scouting.

"The nice thing about the Chicago Bears is we have great resources," Emery said. "Cliff Stein is a great resource. He's in the forefront in that role in this league. Have I been involved in those discussions before? Yes."

Emery noted that Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay was a "great teacher" and made sure he understood the "big picture."

"So I have some experience in those areas, but I will be leaning on Cliff. And I know he's a good teammate," Emery said. "I was here when Cliff came in, and he's very good at his position. Cliff, along with other people in the building, we're gonna help one another.

"We're gonna be a cohesive team. Sometimes in a team you have some weakness and you have strengths. The key is putting those things together to help one another move forward."

Stein, with Emery's guidance, will have plenty to tackle in the coming months. The Bears will have their full allotment of draft picks -- including an extra one in the third -- and they'll have to figure out what to do with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who will soon be an unrestricted free agent. In addition, perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has made clear he wants more money added to his current contract.

Bears clearly wanted a piece of the "Patriot Way"

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Bears president Ted Phillips, who led the search for the new general manager, definitely focused on three things in finding Jerry Angelo's replacement.

First, he wanted someone who didn't have a big ego.

Second, he favored someone with a college scouting background.

And third, he ultimately wanted someone who embraced the "Patriot Way."

I asked him if he liked the New England Patriots scouting philosophy, and Phillips said, "I do.

"I'll just say this: Their system is more geared toward the fit [of player] on your team. And there is a consistent grading between college and pro. And it was fascinating to hear some of the details of that. So it wasn't coincidental that they both had that similar system, and they were the two final candidates."

The other finalist, of course, was Jason Licht, who worked as a national scout for the Patriots and returned later as the pro personnel director.

While he certainly will bring the Patriot Way, Emery also said he'll add from other systems he's learned from.

"A lot of it will be from that system - if want for another word, the 'Patriot system.' But I will tell you this: Thomas [Dimitroff] has gone off on some different vents than the Patriot blueprint; so has Scott [Pioli]," Emery said. "You have to adapt it to fit your situation, the talents of the people that you have, the size of the staff you have."

Dimitroff and Pioli both were groomed in New England but are now the general managers of the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.

Emery said Phillips and the McCaskey family has told him to do whatever is necessary to build his staff, the way he sees fit.

Still, Emery applauded the staff that's in place.

This is one fine scouting staff," Emery said, "and what we're going to do moving forward with this staff is continue to add to it, to take the good people we have, add more good people, so that we can function at a high level in our role in terms of identifying talent.

"The best talent, the best people, the right fit, the right ones for the right 53, so we can move forward toward our goal of winning championships."

As for looking for someone with a college scouting background, Phillips made clear that was an "added benefit."

"We need to do better, in the top three rounds of the draft," he said. "We haven't done as good in those areas, over the last 10 years, and we've got to, in order to have sustainable success."

Tim Ruskell out as Bears player personnel director

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New Bears general manager Phil Emery didn't waste much time making a big decision.

He's relieved Tim Ruskell of his duties as the Bears director of player personnel. The team described the decision as "mutually agreed upon."

Ruskell had been the interim general manager since Jerry Angelo was let go Jan. 3. Ruskell had previously been the president of the Seattle Seahawks.

Ruskell and Emery have history, though.

When he was the assistant general manager in Atlanta, Ruskell hired Emery as the college scouting director. That was Emery's first big break in the NFL, having served as an area scout for the Bears from 1998 to 2004.

Details aren't clear. But, it's believed Ruskell will collect the remainder of his contract.

One of the reasons for the move, as well, is that Emery is expected to structure his department with a director for the college and pro side, not someone who oversees both.

Phil Emery pushed Falcons to take Roddy White

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Unless you're the decision-maker, it's hard to know who to credit for the selection of a certain player.

But, when I spoke to Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay on Sunday, he didn't hesitate saying that Phil Emery was responsible for receiver Roddy White.

McKay was the president and general manager of the Falcons in 2004, when his assistant GM, Tim Ruskell, hired Emery. After Ruskell left for the Seattle Seahawks, Emery pushed hard for the Falcons to take Roddy White with the 27th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Since he played at Alabama-Birmingham, McKay was a tad concerned. But Emery did extensive interviews and convinced everyone that he was the right player for the team.

White is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who has topped 1,000 receiving yards in five consecutive seasons. He's also scored 45 receiving touchdowns.

Obviously, the Bears could use a player of White's caliber.

Here's the story with insight from McKay.

According to Pro Football Focus, J'Marcus Webb was the worst full-time starting left tackle in the NFL this season.

Webb had a rating of minus-24.7, which ranked 67th among offensive tackles, according to PFF. By contrast, the top-rated offensive tackle, the Phila-delphia Eagles' Jason Peters, had a rating of 27.6.

Bears offensive line coach-turned-offensive coordinator Mike Tice has defended the play and potential of Webb, a seventh-round pick in the 2010 draft, at every turn.

But here's something to keep an eye on: Perhaps Tice will consider moving Chris Williams back to left tackle to compete with Webb. Williams started nine games at guard before he was lost for the season to a wrist injury. He didn't exactly shine, but he played solid football.

Next season, Webb likely will be penciled in as the starter at left tackle, Gabe Carimi as the starter at right tackle and Roberto Garza as the starter at center. There will plenty of competition for the two guard spots among Chris Spencer, Lance Louis and Edwin Williams.

That's why Chris Williams might get a shot at left tackle.

The Bears could use an infusion of talent on the offensive line. For the second consecutive season, their offensive line ranked last in the league, according to STATS.

Given their needs at so many other positions, though, they might not be able to invest much more than a late-round pick in the unit.

Bears name Phil Emery General Manager

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The Bears turned to a familiar face in replacing longtime general manager Jerry Angelo.
The club announced Saturday that Phil Emery, who was an area scout from 1998 to 2004 for the Bears, has been named the team's fifth general manager.
He'll be introduced at a formal press conference at Halas Hall Monday at 2 p.m.
Emery and Jason Licht of the New England Patriots were the two finalists after three others were eliminated from contention. They were Marc Ross of the New York Giants, Tim Ruskell of the Bears and Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers.
As the Sun-Times reported on Jan. 20, after Emery's interview, he was widely viewed as the favorite by league sources. The following Monday, several outlets, in fact, reported that Emery was offered or landed the job, although that was premature.
Licht was interviewed a second time on Thursday followed by Emery on Friday.
Emery has a unique career path.
A native of Michigan, he started his career at his alma mater, Wayne State, as a student assistant. He then headed to several other schools, before landing at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was the director of strength and conditioning services and an associate professor.
He started his NFL career with the Bears, as an area scout by former general manager Mark Hatley. He was retained when Angelo took over in 2001.
In 2005, Ruskell - the assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons - hired him to be the team's college scouting director.
When the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff, Emery was demoted, but he once again survived a change of leadership. Dimitroff, in fact, was so impressed with Emery's professionalism that he recommended Emery to one of his closest friends in the business, Scott Pioli, when he became general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009.
Emery has been the Chiefs college scouting director ever since.
"He didn't rock the boat," Dimitroff told the Sun-Times Wednesday.
Pioli told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that Emery was ready to be a general manager.
"The things that stand out are his work ethic, his work habits, how detailed he is, how meticulous he is," Pioli told the Sun-Times. "He's a very good teacher, and he's a very good listener.
"I think those things are valuable, in that position. I also feel that he's a good evaluator of talent."

Phil Emery wraps up interview, decision may come soon

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The Bears wrapped up a lengthy interview at Halas Hall with Phil Emery Friday, and they could make a decision on their next general manager sooner than later.

Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason Licht of the New England Patriots are the two finalists to replace Jerry Angelo as the Bears' general manager. Licht concluded his second-round interview Thursday.

If the Bears select Emery, there's nothing that limits their ability to make that announcement. But if the Bears select Licht, they'll need written permission from the Patriots, since the the club's season is not yet over. They'll play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.

Technically, the Patriots could force the Bears to wait until after the Super Bowl to announce Licht as the new general manager.

"No contract shall be executed, and no agreement to execute a contract, or an announcement of a contract or of an agreement for employment, shall be permitted until after the conclusion of the employer club's playing season, unless the employer club has specifically granted written permission for its employee to accept a position with the new club prior to the conclusion of its participation in the postseason," the league rules state.

The Patriots, though, have accommodated the Bears interview requests, thus far.

When he was named general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, Thomas Dimitroff made some changes to the scouting department.

One of them was bringing in David Caldwell to serve as the college scouting director. That meant Phil Emery, who had been in that position, would need to be fired or re-assigned. Dimitroff demoted Emery to a regional scout for the 2008 season, and he was impressed at how the veteran scout handled it.

"He didn't rock the boat," Dimitroff told me Wednesday.

How impressed was Dimitroff?

When close friend Scott Pioli -- whom he'd worked with several years in New England -- took over the Kansas City Chiefs, Dimitroff recommended Emery.

As you saw the other day, Pioli has become a huge fan of Emery's in their three years together in Kansas City.

Full disclosure: I've tried hard to get anecdotes and insights on Jason Licht, of the Patriots. But, there are, frankly, not that many people allowed to speak on the record about him. I've passed along insight from many others, who respect him as a scout and as a potential GM.

But two of the most qualified to speak on Licht were not in Mobile: Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Heckert worked closely with Licht in Philadelphia, and Belichick is the point person for the Patriots, the only one in a position to comment on him.

A chat with Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming

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MOBILE, Ala. -- The most enjoyable conversation I had with a player at the Senior Bowl was with Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming.

He's a high-energy young man, with a genuine enthusiasm for everything. Interestingly, he's represented by Earl Bennett's agent, and the topic of skinny jeans came up. Needless to say, Fleming isn't a fan -- of skinny jeans, that is.

And yes, he did speak to the Bears while he was in Mobile.

Here's my chat with him.

Q: How has this week been for you here in Mobile?
A: It's been a great experience. It's fun and different. I'm just trying to soak it in. you only get one shot to do this. So I'm just thankful that I have this opportunity.

Q: What are you selling to the NFL personnel?
A: I'm a talented athlete, who can do anything that you ask me to do. I'm physical. I make plays in the run games.

Q: So you pride yourself on your versatility?
A: Yes sir. I like to be well rounded; not a lot of guys can be. It's more difficult on you. You're not the biggest guy on the field. But you have to be aggressive and make pays.

Q: Do you think you could help the Bears defense?
A: They're getting up in age. They got a great defense, of course. But I don't watch too much of the Bears. I grew up in Arlington [Texas], so I watched the Cowboys a lot. But I wouldn't say I was a diehard Cowboys fan.

Q: What was the highlight of your college career?
A: I would say stripping the ball at Texas, and returning that for a touchdown. I had never experienced that. Just taking the ball from someone and scoring.

Q: Who is your agent?
A: C.J. LaBoy of Octagon.

Q: What will you work on before the Combine?
A: Work on my feet. And just getting back to healthy. OU, I had been there five years. And we work hard, every day, day in and day out.

Q: What are you hoping to run in the 40?
A: Me personally, I want to run a 4.3. I know I can. It's about technique. Get a good start. I can drive, and pick up my knees.

Q: Tell me something fun about yourself?
A: I got a lot of swag. I like different stuff. But I don't wear no skinny jeans, though. I think I'm too muscular for skinny jeans.

But I got an airbrushed backpack. It's got my Twitter name on it [@JamellFleming]

A chat with N.C. State LB Audie Cole

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Audie Cole is big: 6 foot 5, 239 pounds.

But, he's got to prove he's also fast.

At the NFL Combine, he'll have to run better than the 4.8 he's been clocked at in the past. Otherwise, he could be a mid-round pick.

Here's my conversation with him.

Q: What do you need to do to improve your draft stock at the NFL Combine?
A: I'm just trying to improve at everything. I want to try and go into the meetings that I'm going to have, and show them that I can play at the next level.

Q: You grew up in Michigan. Are you a Lions fan?
A: Well, I grew up just south of Detroit, when Barry Sanders was playing. So everyone loved them. But I saw a ton of Chicago games; all the north teams. I mean, there's some great teams there, but there are great teams everywhere. I just grew up a fan of football.

Q: Would the Bears be appealing to you?
A: Absolutely. You got a place like that, and you get to learn from some of the best in the league.

Q: What was the highlight of your career at North Carolina State?
A: I don't think there was a single highlight. But our big rival is North Carolina, and I never lost a game to them. I was 5-0. I don't think any team has won five in a row on them, around there.

Q: What do you sell about yourself to NFL coaches and scouts?
A: I think I'm a reliable, instinctive, and I have a knowledge of the game, who can move and do what they ask. I try not to make too many mistakes and just play football.

Q: Do you play special teams?
A: I did not last year. But before that, I was on every special teams.

Q: Who is your agent?
A: Deryk Gilmore

A chat with North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins

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MOBILE, Ala. -- If performance were all that mattered, cornerback Janoris Jenkins would be a first-round pick.

But three off-the-field incidents (two related to marijuana possession and one for fighting and resisting arrest) led to his dismissal from Florida and could hurt his draft positioning in April.

To his credit, Jenkins, who played last season at North Alabama, didn't hide from his issues at the Senior Bowl. Here's my interview with him.

Q: What are you trying to convey to the NFL coaches and scouts?
A: I'm just trying to come across that I'm a good kid. I made a few mistakes, and I learned from them. And I'm looking to move forward and showcase my talent.

Q: Is your on-field play more important than your interviews?
A: I mean both. I want to prove to them that I'm not a bad kid, and I made a few mistakes down the road. And I learned from them, and I'm looking forward to moving on.

Q: Do you think you'll still be selected in the first round?
A: I made the mistake, and I got to take the blame for it. Whoever gets me, I'll be glad to go. And they'll get all I have.

Q: What did you do to change, after your off the field issues?
A: I went to Division II. Separated myself from the people I used to hang with. I took a year to myself. Giving back to the kids. I went from Division 1 to Division 2. It was a big difference. I had to just fit in around the environment. 95,000 to 3,500 [fans at games] a week is a big difference.

Q: What kind of defensive scheme do you think you fit in?
A: I can play in any scheme. Zone coverage, to man. I'm just looking to find a home.

Q: How have you felt so far here?
A: I had to get used to what they were coaching. Then I had a feel for it better today.

Q: Who is your agent?
I picked Ben Dogra.

A chat with Marshall DE Vinny Curry

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In his last two seasons at Marshall, defensive end Vinny Curry racked up 23 sacks.

But, he isn't a one-dimensional player, also making a lot of tackles.

He's 6 foot 4, 263 pounds, and he looks like the sort of player who could fit in any scheme.

Here's a conversation with Curry:

Q: How has this experience been so far?
A: I'm just trying to soak up as much as I can up. Everyone out here is good, so I'm just trying to get better. It feels good just to be out here, among the nation's best.

Q: Where are you going to train before the Combine and what will be your focus?
A: I'm going to train at CES Sports, in Atlanta. My focus is to be a top performer, in all categories, at my position. And just to work hard. Just solidify myself as a solid draft pick.

Q: Does this experience in Mobile make you believe you're ready for the next step in your career?
A: Everything feels good. It gives you a lot of confidence.

Q: What have you thought about the experience of working with NFL coaches?
A: I love it. I love getting coached, and I like learning new things. I'm just very excited.

Q: And in interviews, what do you highlight about yourself?
A: I'm a guy who loves the game. A guy who plays with phenomenal passion, and a guy who makes plays.

Q: Projections have you as a first- to third-round pick. What's your mindset?
A: My goal is just to be one of the top d-ends taken in the draft.

Q: Did you graduate from Marshall?
A: I graduated this past December. General studies. I had two minor degrees in criminal justice and sociology.

Q: So you're obviously ready, if the NFL thing doesn't work out?
A: If the NFL thing doesn't work, I'm going to try and be a wrestler.

Q: You've been very productive, both in terms of sacks and tackles. Why is that?
A: Teams schemed for me, so I tried to elevate my game with seven forced fumbles. I'm just a hard worker, and I play with as much passion as I can. I love playing at Marshall. I love being a part of the Herd. I wanted to bring them a conference championship. But at least we brought them a bowl championship.

Q: Who is your agent?
A: Kevin Conner at Universal Sports.

A chat with Iowa WR Marvin McNutt

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Marvin McNutt has turned some heads with plays so far at the Senior Bowl. He's 6 foot 2, 216 pounds, and starred at the University of Iowa. Originally from St. Louis, McNutt visited with the Bears -- among many other teams -- here in Mobile.

Q: What has this experience been like for you?
A: It's crazy. It's one of those things, where you're another step closer to your goals. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.

Q: When you visit with scouts and coaches, what are you highlighting about yourself?
A: I can play any position, I'm smart and I know the game. I will do anything they ask.

Q: What do you hope to run at the NFL Combine?
A: I'm hoping to run a 4.4. That's what I'm trying to get. I want to be a big guy who can run.

Q: What was the highlight of your career at Iowa?
A: Just being able to play with the guys that I played with, and the coaches. Just being in that Hawkeye environment.

Q: What was your experience like with Kirk Ferentz?
A: I loved playing for him.

Q: Who did you pick as your agent?
A: Adisa Bakari (who also represents Bears running back Matt Forte)

Bears could find a Quick solution to WR issue

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MOBILE, Ala. -- I have no idea if Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick has soft hands or an exceptional get-off. I don't know how quickly he gets in and out of his breaks or whether he's a long-strider with a wide catching radius or accelerates toward space and has top-end speed.

He's 6-5, 220, claims he has a 39-inch vertical and he can catch the ball and run with it. That makes him a candidate to help the Bears.

If the Bears aren't looking for a wide receiver in the April draft, they should be. You don't have to be a scout, coach or general manager to know that.

The "Licht" Touch?

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Jason Licht, a finalist for the Bears general manager job, has something going for him that can't be overlooked.

He's been on some Super Bowl-bound teams.

In 2001, when he was a national scout, the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl and won.

In 2004, when he was the assistant director of player personnel, the Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC and appeared in the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots.

And in 2008, in his lone season as a personnel executive, the Arizona Cardinals appeared in their only Super Bowl.

Now, as the director of pro personnel, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, with a chance to win another ring Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

I've written before about Licht's reputation. He's respected by his peers, and he's distinguished himself as both a college and pro scout. One league source who has worked with Licht also said he has strong leadership skills.

He and Phil Emery (college scouting director of the Kansas City Chiefs) are the two finalist for the Bears GM job, and they'll interview later this week at Halas Hall.

Mike Tice will not interview for the Oakland Raiders heading coaching vacancy, the team announced Monday evening.

Tice was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, after the team parted ways with Mike Martz. That Tice will remain is a big break for the Bears, with the pool of potential coaches quickly disappearing. Moreover, Tice allows the most seamless transition for the Bears players, especially quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler is now on his third offensive coordinator with the Bears, but Tice is expected to make the transition much smoother for the quarterback. Tice will emphasize the run but empower Cutler to attempt down field passes.

The key, of course, is to bolster the receiving corps to increase the percentage of completed deep passes.

ESPN reported earlier Monday that Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will have a second interview with the Raiders. Marty Mornhingweg and Winston Moss were also believed to be strong candidates for the Raiders job.

New Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was formerly a longtime scout with the Green Bay Packers.

Phil Emery or Jason Licht will be Bears GM

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The Bears have whittled their initial list of five candidates to two, and they'll conduct a second round of interviews with Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason Licht of the New England Patriots, according to three league sources.

Eliminated from the process were Marc Ross of the New York Giants, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers and Tim Ruskell of the Bears.

Emery and Licht will interview at Halas Hall later this week. Emery is already in Mobile, and Licht is expected to arrive, at some point.

The Bears were free to interview Emery at any time. But, they needed written permission from the Patriots to interview Licht again, since his club's season isn't over. The Patriots will play the Giants Feb. 5 in the Super Bowl, in Indianapolis.

That Ruskell has eliminated puts him in a compromising position. It's believed he still has at least another year on his contract, but he's now at the mercy of either Licht or Emery.

And those two may elect to go with a more traditional route, hiring a college and pro director, instead of one to oversee both. Ruskell was hired by former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo as the director of player personnel in April 2010.

Ultimately, in the second round of interviews, the Bears will have to flesh out the plans of each man. For instance, given his familiarity with the Bears and some of the scouts on staff, Emery may not be as inclined to make massive changes to a scouting department that is fairly well-respected. Licht, meanwhile, could insist on an overhaul, implementing new scouts and systems he picked up while in Philadelphia, New England and Arizona.

The Bears have closed the interviewing process for their next general manager. And although two candidates are on Super Bowl-bound teams, their respective clubs can determine if they can accept the Bears offer, should one be extended.

Here's what the NFL rules say on the matter: "No contract shall be executed, and no agreement to execute a contract, or an announcement of a contract or of an agreement for employment, shall be permitted until after the conclusion of the employer club's playing season, unless the employer club has specifically granted written permission for its employee to accept a position with the new club prior to the conclusion of its participation in the postseason."

This month, the Green Bay Packers, for instance, allowed Reggie McKenzie to accept the general manager position from the Oakland Raiders before their season officially ended.

Once a club is eliminated, they have no say in the interview process, if an employee has a chance to become a high-level club employee.

Last offseason, Bears chairman George McCaskey visited with Giants co-owner John Mara in the New York area, to gain insights on his new position. Given the friendly relationship -- as well as the strong relationship between general manager Jerry Reese and Ross -- the Giants likely wouldn't block the hiring from happening this week.

The Bears would prefer, of course, to hire a candidate sooner than later and have him start immediately. But, per NFL rules, the Giants and Patriots could block that from happening until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

The Bears interviewed five candidates in five days last week. They were Jason Licht of the New England Patriots on Monday, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday, Marc Ross of the New York Giants on Wednesday, Tim Ruskell of the Bears on Thursday and Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday.

Bears president Ted Phillips likely spent the weekend, mulling the interviews. The St. Louis Rams are also in the process of interviewing and hiring a general manager. Last week, they hired Jeff Fisher as head coach.

Three league sources told the Sun-Times last Friday that they believed that Emery was favorite to replace Jerry Angelo, citing his familiarity with the Bears (he was an area scout from 1998 to 2004) and his low-key approach. He also likely wouldn't overhaul the scouting department.

For the second consecutive year, the Bears will be sending a player to the Super Bowl as a finalist for the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was named one of three finalists and the winner will be announced Feb. 4, during a special prime-time, awards show on the NFL Network. Center Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers are the other two finalists.

"Well deserved. We are excited to have a finalist in back to back years," the Bears said in a statement. "It shows the players' commitment to being difference makers in their community as well as on the field."

Last year, defensive end Israel Idonije was a finalist but former Minnesota Vikings safety Madieu Williams won the award.

Tillman has distinguished himself with his Cornerstone Foundation.

After his daughter was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, Tillman and his wife Jackie shifted the focus of the foundation to help improve the lives of critically and chronically ill children.

Tillman appeared before Congress to lobby for FDA approval of the Berlin Heart, a device which helped save his daughter's life.

The device did receive approval.

Since the foundation was established in 2005, Tillman's foundation has raised more than $1.2 million. He and his wife have also supported other charities, and he participated in a USO Tour in 2010 and hosted youth football camps and visited hospitals in three different states.

Illinois Governor Quinn declared June 19, 2010 and July 24, 2011 "Charles Tillman Family Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Day."

Click here for a story I did earlier in the season on Tillman and his family.

Is Phil Emery the favorite to become Bears next GM?

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The Bears wrapped up their fifth interview in five days with candidates to become the team's next general manager.

And they felt strong enough about the pool that they will not expand it.

So Jason Licht of the New England Patriots, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers, Marc Ross of the New York Giants, Tim Ruskell of the Bears or Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs will replace Jerry Angelo as Bears' general manager.

If the hunches of two league sources is correct, Emery is the leader in the club house.

Emery is currently the Chiefs college scouting director, and he served in the same capacity under Tim Ruskell in Atlanta.

Before that, though, Emery worked as an area scout for the Bears from 1998 to 2004.

He's considered a "grinder," a college scout who is on the road constantly, searching for the next wave of NFL stars.

A native of Garden City, Michigan, he started his career at the U.S. Naval Academy, as the director of strength and conditioning services and an associate professor. He was responsible for the development, administration and supervision of all strength and conditioning activities for 4,000 Midshipmen.

He also had been a strength coach or defensive line coach at several schools, including Tennessee and Saginaw Valley State.

The Bears announced that Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a sprained MCL, has passed a physical exam and has been cleared to play in the Pro Bowl.

Forte led NFL running backs in yards from scrimmage for most of the season until a week after he suffered the knee injury against the Kansas City Chiefs. Forte had 203 carries for 997 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the Bears with 52 receptions for 490 yards and one touchdown.

Forte is the Bears' first running back to make the Pro Bowl since Neal Anderson after the 1991 season. Coach Lovie Smith said late in the season that he would allow Forte to play in the Pro Bowl if that's what Forte wanted to do.

Tim Ruskell interviews for Bears GM vacancy Thursday

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Tim Ruskell, the Bears interim general manager, interviewed to replace Jerry Angelo full-time on Thursday.

Ruskell established himself in Tampa, alongside Angelo, working under Rich McKay.

When McKay was hired as the president and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, he named Ruskell as his assistant GM. Then, in 2005, Ruskell was named general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

He helped the Seahawks advance to a Super Bowl and win three division titles.

New England Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht interviewed on Monday, followed by Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye on Tuesday and Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross on Wednesday. Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs will interview Friday.

Here's a closer look at Ruskell's draft record in Seattle.

If the Bears interview Tim Ruskell today at Halas Hall as expected, their first question should be, ''What can you do for us that Jerry Angelo could not?'' Because they sure seem like the same guy.

Ruskell is considered a long shot in the Bears GM search. But that he's even being considered to replace Angelo tells you all you need to know about the dysfunction at Halas Hall and why the Bears are chasing the Packers and Lions in the NFC North.

It's an indictment more of their management ability than their football acumen: You don't fire Jerry Angelo to hire Tim Ruskell. You fire Jerry Angelo to either hire someone with a better proven track record -- like a Bill Polian or a Ron Wolf -- or someone who might be the next Bill Polian or Ron Wolf.

Mike Tice was just promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator.

But the Oakland Raiders have requested permission to speak to Tice about their head-coaching vacancy, according to two league sources.

The Raiders officially hired former Green Bay Packers football operations director Reggie McKenzie as general manager a week ago. McKenzie announced the ouster of coach Hue Jackson, who had been head coach for just one season. Since then, the Raiders have been interviewing many candidates.

They include: Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and Packers assistants Winston Moss, Dom Capers and Joe Philbin.

Miami Dolphins interim head coach Todd Bowles also interviewed last week.

Last week, the Bears interviewed Greg Olson for the team's vacant quarterbacks/ passing game coordinator position. That job hasn't been filled, and coaches are on vacation this week.

After playing 14 NFL seasons as a tight end, Tice rose through the coaching ranks and became the Minnesota Vikings head coach in 2002. After the Vikings defeated the Bears in the 2005 season finale -- to push the team's record to 9-7 -- Tice was immediately informed of his ouster.

The Vikings hired Brad Childress, who was fired late in the 2010 season, after his team started 3-7.

The Bears interviewed their second candidate for its general manager vacancy on Tuesday.

He is Jimmy Raye III, the current Player Personnel Director of the San Diego Chargers.

The son of Jimmy Raye II, a longtime NFL assistant coach, he was a receiver at San Diego State University. He played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1991.

He joined the Rams as a scout in 1996, and he was promoted to director of college scouting in 2000.

In 2008, he was given his current title of director of player personnel.

The Chargers have had some outstanding draft picks, most notably LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Shawne Merriman and Vincent Jackson. But, several NFL scouts suggested that Buddy Nix -- the former Chargers assistant general manager -- was integral in the team's draft selections. Nix left the Chargers in 2009 and became general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

In the last three drafts, it's fair to say the Bills have fared better than the Chargers.

The Bears also are expected to interview Phil Emery (college scouting director of the Kansas City Chiefs) and Marc Ross (college scouting director of the New York Giants). Current Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell will also interview for the job.

Dave Toub signs two-year contract extension

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It's usually not cause for celebration. But, the Bears certainly were excited to announce the return of special teams coordinator Dave Toub, who signed a two-year extension.

He's one of the best in the league, strong enough that he earned an interview for the Miami Dolphins head coaching vacancy.

But his return certainly is important, as coach Lovie Smith prepares for an important 2012 season. Smith is under contract through 2013, but he's only really been promised 2012. Bears president Ted Phillips made clear that any general manager hired to replace Jerry Angelo would do so with the understanding Smith would be the coach next season.

According to NFL Network, Toub will be paid $1 million a year, ranking him among the league's highest-paid special teams coordinators.

Toub's unit had a standout 2011 season, and they finished third in a ranking system by the Dallas Morning News. Toub's unit has now ranked in the top third of the league for the last eight seasons, including at No. 1 in 2006 and 2007.
Special teams ace Corey Graham will make his first Pro Bowl appearance later this month. Under Toub, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Robbie Gould and Brendon Ayanbadejo also have made Pro Bowl appearances.

The playoffs define everything in the NFL, as they should. And the Giants, head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning are getting their due credit after upsetting the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

But let's not forget how fine the line is between success and failure in the postseason. The Packers barely made it into the postseason last year before winning the Super Bowl. The Giants only made it this season by winning a crappy division on the final day of the season.

There's no doubt the Giants have accomplished more in Tom Coughlin's eight seasons than the Bears have in Lovie Smith's eight seasons. The Giants have been to the playoffs five times. They won their Super Bowl and beat one of the best teams in NFL history to do it. The Bears have been to the playoffs three times. They lost their Super Bowl.

But this isn't the season that illustrates how much more competent the Giants are than the Bears. The biggest difference between the Bears and Giants in 2011 is that the Giants kept their quarterback healthy.

The Bears kicked off interviews for its general manager vacancy with Jason Licht today.

The New England Patriots routed the Denver Broncos Saturday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Licht is the Patriots director of pro personnel.

Licht played linebacker the University of Nebraska, before transferring to Nebraska Wesleyan and switching to defensive tackle.

He got his first NFL job as a scouting assistant with the Miami Dolphins in 1995 under Tom Heckert.

He joined the Patriots in 1999, as a college scout, then re-joined Heckert in Philadelphia as the Eagles assistant director of player personnel in 2002. In 2003, he was promoted to vice president of player personnel.

After a year with the Arizona Cardinals, Licht returned to the Patriots as director of pro personnel in February 2009.

Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers, Marc Ross of the New York Giants and Tim Ruskell of the Bears will interview later this week.

Mike Martz on retirement: "It's time."

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Former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has decided to retire from coaching.

"It's time," he told the Sun-Times.

Martz didn't elaborate on his decision. But he'll turn 61 in May, and he's had a full career, one that started at Bullard High School in Fresno, CA in 1973. He transitioned to college football, working his way up the ranks, before joining the Los Angeles Rams as the quarterbacks coach in 1992. He was named offensive coordinator in 1999, leading the famed "Greatest Show on Turf" that set several NFL records en route to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

He was named head coach of the Rams in 2000, after Dick Vermeil retired, and he led the Rams back to the Super Bowl. But, after a 14-2 season, the Rams were defeated by the New England Patriots, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI.

He was fired in 2005, then became the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. He also had a run with the San Francisco 49ers before joining the Bears for the 2010 season.

The NFL Network first reported Martz's decision to retire.

Matt Forte finalist for "Top Value" award

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With a base salary of $550,000, Bears running back Matt Forte was easily one of the league's most underpaid players heading into the 2010 season.

Now, he's in contention for an actual award.

Forte is a finalist for the annual "Vizio Top Value Performer" award, along with receiver Laurent Robinson of the Dallas Cowbooys, receiver Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, tight end Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and lilnebacker NaVorro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers.

The award recognizes a player whose on-field performance exceeds the value of their contract.
Forte had 997 yards rushing and he caught 52 passes for 490 yards. Before he sprained his knee, thus ending his season, Forte led the league in total yards from scrimmage.

Fans can vote until Jan. 23, at

Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson won the award in 2010, and Giants receiver Steve Smith won the award in 2009.

The Bears will interview Greg Olson for the vacant quarterbacks/ passing game coordinator later today, according to league sources.

Olson provides extensive experience, as an offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams. In St. Louis, he worked under Scott Linehan, who current Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice developed in Minnesota.

Olson has worked with some impressive quarterbacks, including Drew Brees at Purdue. Other quarterbacks he's worked with include Jeff Garcia, Marc Bulger and Josh Freeman.

Olson's first NFL job was as the quarterbacks coach of the Bears in 2003 under Dick Jauron.

In Tampa, he started as the quarterbacks coach but he was promoted to offensive coordinator before the 2009 season.

That season, Freeman finished as the sixth-rated quarterback in the NFL with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

Bears set to interview five candidates for GM

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The Bears search to replace Jerry Angelo as general manager will soon start with four interviews.

Jason Licht of the New England Patriots, Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers and Marc Ross of the New York Giants will interview with the Bears.

Bears interim general manager Tim Ruskell also remains a contender and will receive an interview.

The list, however, is not limited to those five candidates, as a couple of other candidates could emerge.

Here's a closer look at the five known candidates:

* Phil Emery, Chiefs college scouting director: Very diverse background, which includes eight years as a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was also an assistant coach (mostly defensive line or strength coach) at several colleges. Broke into the NFL with the Bears in 1998, as an area scout. He left to become the college scouting director of the Atlanta Falcons from 2004 to 2008. He's served in that same capacity the last three seasons for the Chiefs.

A closer look at Tim Ruskell's drafts in Seattle

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When he was hired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2005, Tim Ruskell walked into a difficult situation as the team's president of football operations and general manager.

Before that, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren had long held the general manager title, as well, so there were some natural issues between the two men. Sources told me that things were fine initially, but they gradually worsened, as the Seahawks started to struggle. As Jason Babin told me last month, he was caught in the middle, when Ruskell traded safety Michael Boulware for him in 2007. A second-round pick in 2004, Boulware didn't start a single game for the Houston Texans and was out of the league after 2007. Babin, meanwhile, has been a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, and he racked up 30 1/2 sacks the last two seasons.

But he did so for the Tennessee Titans and the Philadelphia Eagles because Holmgren refused to play him in Seattle. In fact, Babin appeared in just four games in two seasons.

The point is, you have to take a more in-depth look at Ruskell's personnel decisions. The easiest way is to look at the draft picks. There are duds, like any other GM, but he also has players who didn't thrive in Seattle but are doing fine elsewhere. That points to the power struggle between him and Holmgren.

Here, then, is a closer look at the drafts he led in Seattle:


1st round, 4th overall - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest - He certainly didn't produce the way one would expect of a top-five pick. But that draft class was obviously weak at the top, with only No. 1 selection Matthew Stafford playing at a Pro Bowl level. A bunch of other players selected around Curry have been disappointments, including offensive tackle Jason Smith (2nd), defensive end Tyson Jackson (3rd) and quarterback Mark Sanchez (No. 5). Curry is now in Oakland, and he started nine of 11 games there.

2nd round, 49th overall - Max Unger, C, Oregon - He's developed into a more than solid center, which is why the Seahawks let veteran Chris Spencer walk away.

3rd round, 91st overall - Deon Butler, WR, Penn State - Disappointment in three seasons, with four touchdowns and eight starts.

THE REST - Seventh-round pick Nick Reed made an appearance in Chicago and didn't exactly thrill anyone. But, safety Courtney Greene, another seventh-rounder, has started 13 games in the last two seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars. A third seventh-rounder, tight end Cameron Morrah, remains on the Seahawks.

Bears denied permission to speak to Titans QB coach

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The Bears were denied permission to speak to Tennessee Titans quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, a league source said.

The Bears are looking for a passing game coordinator/ quarterbacks coach to pair with newly appointed offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who will also have significant input on the offensive line. The Bears are also still planning to hire an offensive line coach to help him.

Jeremy Bates and Jedd Fisch could also be candidates to fill the quarterbacks/ passing game coordinator position.

Loggains knows Bears quarterback Jay Cutler from Vanderbilt. Loggains, though, is well thought of by the Titans, helping Matt Hasselbeck make a smooth transition as a free agent in 2011 and also helping develop rookie Jake Locker.

The NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks visited the White House on Monday.

"That's my guy," Derrick Rose said of President Obama.

During the ceremony, the No. 1 Bulls fan let it be known that he expected to host the Bulls at this time next year.

"If we make it to the finals he promised me he'd be there," Rose said. "I'm going to hold him to that promise."

When Carlos Boozer finally started rolling to the basket the Bulls led by 21 in the fourth quarter. He drew a foul with four minutes left. He looked over at bench and got a nod from coach Tom Thibodeau on the next possession, did the same thing with the same result. Why not keep doing what works until someone stops it?

The Bulls won their 13th straight against the Pistons on Saturday night at the United Center in large part because Detroit had no answer for Boozer, who scored a game-high 23 points and had eight rebounds in a 92-68 victory. Their ability to rebound from Saturday night's humiliating loss in Atlanta was largely due to Boozer being as hot as he has been all season.

Derrick Rose was Derrick Rose. He scored 22 points, many of the dazzling variety. He dished out eight assists, most going to Boozer as the two were a devastatingly effective tandem.

"You put Derrick and Carlos in the pick and roll and they are tough to stop," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They can put a lot of pressure on people. They made great decisions."

Boozer has been criticized for not taking the ball harder to the rim. On this night there was no reason to. Instead of the pick and roll Rose and Boozer worked the pick and pop to perfection, with Boozer setting a screen and then stepping back for the easy jumper. He didn't go hard to the hole until late in the game. He didn't have to.

That the Pistons sent multiple defenders at Rose made the play more effective.

"My job is to get him the ball and read the play," Rose said. "Teams now are soft blitzing me like they did in the postseason and when two come to me he's wide open."

Boozer got his rainbow jumper going early when he made of a pair of 14-footers in the first. He nailed jumpers from the baseline and the free-throw line. He made five of seven shots in the first half to go along with five rebounds and two assists. He opened the third with a rebound on the Pistons first possession and a 15-foot fade-away over Detroit's 6-foot-11 center Greg Monroe the first time the Bulls had the ball. He made six of his first eight and nine of 12 as the Bulls ended the game on a 30-11 run.

"I was just playing off Pooh," Boozer said of Rose. "It was the pick-and-roll, I found myself open and I was shooting with confidence. I did a good job of playing off my teammate and he did a good job of finding me and being aggressive."

There was a moment during Saturday night's blowout loss in Atlanta when Boozer could've went to the floor after a loose ball but didn't. That's what frustrates fans. There are times when Boozer is an ideal compliment to Rose on a team that lacks front-line scoring. The latter was the case Monday night.

Ronnie Brewer added 12 points. Joakim Noah and Omer Asik combined for 15 rebounds and three blocks as the Bulls held Detroit to their lowest point total of the season.

"Carlos is a very, very talented player," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. "There's a reason why Chicago brought him here."

The Bulls will host the Pistons tonight in the first of three games on consecutive days. The Bulls will play five games in the next six nights.

"It's going to catch up with you. It's doing the little things," forward Luol Deng said. "But it's all a mindset. Everybody's got to go through it. We're going to struggle some with energy but that's where the bench comes in and helps each other. But, like I said, we really got to lock in and focus on taking it a game at a time. We can't look at the seventh game from now.

Interestingly enough, teams playing back-to-back-to-back games are 6-0 this season. The Hawks were playing their third straight when they routed the Bulls in Atlanta on Saturday night.

"It doesn't surprise me," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "There's a lot of things that go into it also because usually the opponent is in the midst of a lot of games themselves and so depending upon where that game is, is it home? Who is the opponent? Where are they in their schedule? Have they taken on some injuries? There's a lot of things that go into it. But I'm not surprised. Every night in this league you have to get ready to play and the teams that are ready are usually successful."

Thibs is often asked about how he will adjust the minutes his players will play. It helps that starters got a blow in the fourth quarter against the Hawks.

"It helps that you have a deep bench and then of course you have to wait and see how things unfold in the game," he said. "There can be, of course, foul trouble, a guy could get hurt. So there's a lot of things that play into it."

(This entry was written by Seth Gruen)

Starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton and backup point guard C.J. Watson are both doubtful for Monday's game against the Pistons at the United Center.

Hamilton injured his groin Dec. 30 against the Clippers in Los Angeles. He sat out the ensuing two games and returned Jan. 4 in Detroit where he re-aggravated the injury. He has sat out two games since.

Watson sprained his elbow during a 104-64 home win over the Grizzlies on Jan. 1 and has missed four games. Watson was seen running and doing some ball handling drills during Monday morning's shoot around.

Both players are considered day-to-day.

"The difficult thing with both he and Rip is we're not practicing--our team is not practicing," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So you can't really see can they make it through a practice first. You have to wait to make sure that they're doing their rehab and they get out and try to stay on top of their conditioning whether it's in a pool, on a bike, whatever it is and then you're making those decisions."

A closer look at Marc Ross of the Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have 10 players on injured reserve, including two starters from 2010.

The Giants badly miss cornerback Terrell Thomas, who started 15 games in 2010 and had four forced fumbles and intercepted five passes. The Giants also could have used linebacker Jonathan Goff, who started 16 games last season.

But the Giants have a deep, talented roster, and they showed it off Sunday in a 24-2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium.

As the Bears search for a general manager to replace Jerry Angelo, they can't have Giants GM Jerry Reese. But as they research candidates, they should spend some time considering Marc Ross, the team's college scouting director.

George McCaskey, who completed his first season as the Bears chairman, did spend some time with Giants co-owner John Mara last offseason. Ted Phillips, the Bears president, also is familiar with Mara.

Ross is wrapping up his fifth season with the Giants, after working in the same capacity with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"He's a veteran personnel guy, and he's been around two or three different clubs, so he's seen how things are done differently at different places," Reese said Ross. "And he's smart. He's a people person, a terrific evaluator, and he's qualified."

Jason Pierre-Paul was a surprise selection with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but he's already established himself as one the league's best defensive ends. Meanwhile, the Giants have also managed to unearth diamonds in the rough, like Victor Cruz, an undrafted receiver out of Massachusetts in 2010. This season, Cruz had 82 catches for 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

In fact, the Giants have done very well at the receiver position. Hakeem Nicks has been a very good selection with the 29th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. And Mario Manningham, a former third-round pick, has come up with his share of big plays.

Besides, Ross was an All Ivy League receiver at Princeton, holding five school records.

He was a national scout for the Buffalo Bills, but he became -- at the age of 27 -- the NFL's youngest college scouting director for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000.

Among the players he drafted for the Eagles: Brian Westbrook, Lito Sheppard and Derrick Burgess.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Jay Cutler didn't influence Mike Martz's future with the team.

Smith told the Sun-Times that he talked to Martz Tuesday, informed his staff then Cutler, who was at Halas Hall on Tuesday. A report Thursday said that Cutler went to the team's headquarters and let Smith know he was in favor of Martz not returning, before the coaches had a chance to meet.

"That didn't happen," Smith said. "I didn't talk to Jay until after I talked to Mike."

Smith said that Cutler reiterated his support of the head coach's decision.

Martz told the Sun-Times Wednesday that he had nothing against Smith or Cutler.

"There's nothing to analyze," Martz said. "This is a personal thing for me. There isn't anything to talk about or discuss.

"I have great memories of Chicago. The people there are great."

On Smith, Martz said, "It was a thrill to join Lovie's staff."

On Cutler, Martz said, "Jay is so talented. He got comfortable [in the offense]. But that's on Jay, not myself."

The Bears have officially requested permission to speak to Eric DeCosta of the Baltimore Ravens, a league source told the Sun-Times.

ESPN first reported the news.

As I pointed out last night, DeCosta has been a hot candidate for several years, and he's been reluctant to even interview for openings. But, I cited a source last night that said DeCosta would "strongly consider" the Bears.

But will the Ravens permit the interview for the Bears open GM position?

If you recall, during the 2011 NFL Draft, the Ravens believed they had a trade in the first round with the Bears. The Ravens believed they were trading down, so the Bears could get Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, and they would move down to 29th and get a fourth-round pick.

But, the Bears didn't execute the trade, as agreed upon, and the Ravens missed their slot. The Ravens then selected cornerback Jimmy Smith, the player they wanted, but the club was irate afterwards.

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

On Monday, Bears president Ted Phillips was asked about the botched Ravens trade.

"Out of respect for Jerry [Angelo], I'm not going to go through each individual item that didn't go well," Phillips said. "Obviously, that wasn't one of our greatest moments."

What's interesting is, the official NFL rules say that a team that wants to interview an employee of another club in the playoffs for a "high-level" vacancy must seek written permission from the owner.

Maybe Bisciotti sends that letter from the Bears to the shredder?

But, the Bears are reportedly one of three teams to seek permission from the Ravens to speak to DeCosta. If Bisciotti grants one requests, he essentially grants them all.

"Permission cannot be granted selectively," the NFL policy states.

Because DeCosta is under contract, though, the Ravens do not have to grant permission. But, if one of those teams was prepared to offer DeCosta the job, without an interview, then the Ravens cannot stand in his way.

Bears CEO Ted Phillips said there's no timetable for landing the team's next general manager, even suggesting the process last into February.

But if they're interested in Reggie McKenzie of the Green Bay Packers, they may have to accelerate their plans. In addition to the Raiders, the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts have GM openings.

McKenzie, the Packers director of football operations, is expected to interview with the Oakland Raiders for the general manager position today, according to a league source.

A former Raiders player, McKenzie has long been rumored to be the top candidate for that vacancy. McKenzie developed under former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who worked in the personnel department with the Raiders for a combined 25 years. Wolf is now a consultant to Raiders ownership i their search for a general manager.

The Packers have an open weekend, because, as the NFC's No. 1 seed, they have a bye.
Two years ago, the Packers blocked the Bears request to speak to quarterbacks coach Tom Clements for the offensive coordinator job. But per NFL policy, because the Packers have granted one team permission to speak to McKenzie about a vacancy, they cannot deny any other clubs from interviewing him, as well.

But because the Packers season isn't over, McKenzie can't formalize a contract with another club until the employer club is eliminated from contention.

The surprising firing of Jerry Angelo seems to mark a shift in the culture at Halas Hall, but when the dust had settled Tuesday, one fact remained: The Bears still need to get their act together.

Firing Angelo might have been a step in the right direction, but it didn't erase the dysfunction at Halas Hall. Ted Phillips, who still knows much more about finance than he does about football after 13 years as team president, will be hiring a general manager who won't be able to hire his own coach.

And Lovie Smith has to hire an offensive coordinator who not only is willing to join a coaching staff that will be on the hot seat to start the 2012 season, but is on the same page as not only Smith, but Jay Cutler and whomever is hired as GM.

It's not as easy it looks, as the Bears constantly prove. When Smith fired Ron Turner, he hired Mike Martz over the objections of Angelo, insiders say. Angelo stuck him with a backup quarterback in Caleb Hanie who did not fit Martz's offensive philosophy -- which ultimately cost both Angelo and Martz their jobs.

Report: Jeff Fisher has eyes for Bears

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Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips emphasized Tuesday at a press conference that coach Lovie Smith's job is safe.

Any general manager hired to replace Jerry Angelo must keep Smith, signed through 2013, through at least the 2012 season.

But according to a story on, former Bears safety Jeff Fisher -- one of the biggest free-agent coaches -- wants to return to Chicago.

Reportedly a candidate for the vacancies with the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins, Fisher "will keep an eye on Halas Hall."

NFL Network reporter Albert Breer cited a source with knowledge of Fisher's thinking as saying of the Bears coaching job, "That's the one he's always wanted."

According to Breer, Fisher is fond of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Fisher's former offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger, worked with Cutler in Denver in 2006 and 2007. Heimerdinger passed away in September.

Breer, though, points out that Fisher's likely landing spot is St. Louis. Fisher is represented by agent Marvin Demoff, whose son Kevin is the chief operating officer of the Rams.

A look at the NFL policy for hiring a GM

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With three other vacancies, the Bears will have plenty of competition to replace general manager Jerry Angelo.

It's important to establish the protocol on interviewing and hiring a general manager. Here are some pertinent points from the NFL's policy.

First, "high-level club employees" are defined as "club president, general manager, and persons with equivalent responsibilities and authority."

"A club president is defined as an individual who shall have authority and responsibility for the organization, direction, and management of day-to-day operations of the club and who reports directly to the controlling owner. A general manager is defined as an individual who has (1) the authority over all personnel decisions related to the signing of free agents, the selection of players in the College Draft, trades, terminations, and related decisions, and (2) the responsibility for coordinating other football activities with the head coach."

Second, because the regular season is over and the postseason has begun, a club that wishes to discuss a high-level vacancy with an individual who is not a high-level employee and whose employer club is not in the playoffs must seek written permission from the owner.

If the owner grants permission, then the interview can be conducted at a time that's convenient for all parties.

If an individual's team is in the playoffs, then no contract can be executed until after the conclusion of the employer club's playing season, unless that specific club has granted written permission.

Third, it's important to note that if an organization allows an employee to interview for one high-ranking position, then they must grant permission to all that are interested. "Permission cannot be granted selectively," the policy states.

Fourth, a club is not obligated to "grant another club permission to discuss employment with a high-level employee if he or she is under contract, even if the second club is prepared to offer him or her a position of greater responsibility within the category of high-level club employees."
Clubs may negotiate a right of first refusal.

There is a caveat.
"If, however, the inquiring club is prepared to offer a position as a high-level employee, as defined above, the employer club may not deny the employee the opportunity to discuss and accept such employment."

Fifth, a club can deny permission to a second employee, to apparently ensure a staff is not pillaged.

With his contract expiring soon, Mike Martz will not return as Bears offensive coordinator.

The club announced the move this afternoon. Quarterbacks coach Shane Day, who coached under Martz in San Francisco, will also not return.

"After meeting with Mike this afternoon, we both felt it was best to move in different direction," coach Lovie Smith said. "I appreciate the job he and Shane did for us over the last two years."

Under Martz, the Bears offense was 30th in the NFL last season, in total yards. And while they improved to 24th this season, the Bears unit mightily struggled, particularly early and late in the season.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't mask his frustration during the poor start, and the offense started to improve. During a five-game winning streak, the Bears were scoring over 30 points a game and had drastically improved in converting third downs and reducing turnovers. But when Cutler suffered a broken thumb against the San Diego Chargers, the Bears offense tanked with replacement Caleb Hanie.

The Bears went 0-4 behind Hanie and struggled to score points or even generate first downs.

An in-house candidate would appear to be Mike Tice, the offensive line coach.

Last offseason, the Bears blocked Tice from interviewing for the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator vacancy. They then upgraded his contract.

While he hasn't held the title of offensive coordinator, Tice did call plays during his tenure as the Minnesota Vikings head coach from 2002 to 2005.

Bears must adhere to "Rooney Rule" in GM search

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As they search for a replacement for Jerry Angelo, the Bears must honor the "Rooney Rule," the policy established in 2003 that requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation positions.

Central to the diversification of the NFL has been the Fritz Pollard Alliance. The organization met two weeks ago for its annual meeting with the NFL's Diversity Committee, which includes Commissioner Roger Goodell, attorney Jeff Pash and Pittsburgh Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney.

On Tuesday, chairman John Wooten shared his organization's "short list" with the Sun-Times.

* Reggie McKenzie, Green Bay Packers, Director of Football Operations

* Marc Ross, New York Giants, Director of College Scouting

* Ray Farmer, Kansas City Chiefs, Director of Pro Personnel

* Will Lewis, Seattle Seahawks, Vice President of Pro Personnel

* Louis Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles, Director of Pro Personnel

* Sheldon White, Detroit Lions, Vice President of Pro Personnel

* Lake Dawson, Tennessee Titans, Vice President of Football Operations

* Morocco Brown, Washington Redskins, Director of Pro Personnel

Interesting to note that Brown was the Bears assistant director of pro personnel from 2001 to 2007, before he took a promotion with the Redskins.

"This year, there will be a premium on high skills with talent evaluation. That's why you're seeing all these dismissals," Wooten said. "The guys that I gave you on that list have that top quality."

The Bears will have competition, since the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts also have openings. But, several sources told the Sun-Times the Bears position is the most appealing.

Other candidates that are often mentioned by other league executives include: John Dorsey of the Packers, Eric DeCosta, of the Baltimore Ravens, Les Snead of the Atlanta Falcons, and Bill Polian, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts.

Angelo: 'We've got nobody to blame but ourselves'

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Jerry Angelo, fired as the Bears' general manager Tuesday, didn't sound like a guy whose job was in danger when I spoke to him prior to the Bears-Packers game on Christmas night in Green Bay.

He preferred to avoid addressing "big-picture" issues -- like the backup quarterback, wide receiver and Matt Forte situations -- until the end of the season. But even though, as it turns out, the Jay Cutler injury was the Bears' undoing, he didn't blame bad luck for the team's demise this season.

''We had real control of our destiny [at 7-3]. You could almost grab it, and for whatever reason we just let it get pulled out of our hands,'' he told me. ''It was very upsetting [and] disappointing. And we all feel that way -- the players, coaches, certainly our fans felt that way. Because even though we lost some players, we still had a good football team.

''I thought we were going to come out of this with several wins. I felt like we could have won them all. Those are tough. Real tough. I don't know how else to say it. But I know that sentiment is shared by everybody, not just me. Or you shouldn't be in this business. Because we're in this business to win games.''

George McCaskey, who just completed his first season as the team's new chairman, has decided to relieve longtime general manager Jerry Angelo of his duties, according to a team source. Mike Martz has resigned, according to a source.

After a 7-3 start, the Bears collapsed down the stretch, losing five consecutive games. Although they won the season finale, against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears had already been eliminated from playoff contention.

In a statement, the Bears said president Ted Phillips informed Angelo of the decision this morning.

The Bears will hold a press conference today at 4 pm in the Halas Hall theatre.

Meanwhile, Lovie Smith will remain as Bears coach, the team's website noted in a story about Angelo.

Angelo has been a lightning rod figure, widely criticized for his selection in the NFL Draft and even NFL free agency.

While the Bears roster boasts plenty of the league's top players at key positions, the team's lack of depth was evident this season, as they endured a rash of injuries.

And one of the biggest misfires was the decision to keep quarterback Caleb Hanie, who in his fourth year, went 0-4 as a starter after Jay Cutler broke his right thumb.

Since being hired in 2001, Angelo has helped the Bears win four division titles and make one Super Bowl appearance.

Before the Bears played the Denver Broncos, Angelo told the Sun-Times that he didn't have any plans to retire.

"When that day eventually comes, like it comes for all of us, hopefully I'll be in a position where I can determine when my time is," he said. "But, that will come from me, and no one else, or a rumor mill broadcast."

Asked about his contract through 2013, Angelo said, "As long as I feel good about what I'm doing and feel good, I'm going to continue do it.

"It's no more than that. I've been in football a long time, so I understand where people might pick up the idea."

Will he or won't he? Lovie has big decision on Martz

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Bears coach Lovie Smith said he wanted a little time to evaluate things before figuring out the Mike Martz situation. But there are more indications that he wants to make a change than maintain the status quo.

The decision on Martz is the most immediate quandary facing Smith and the Bears after an 8-8 season that hinged on Martz' offense: Jay Cutler was never better as a Bear during the five-game winning streak that put the Bears at 7-3 and a serious contender to the Packers in the NFC. But Martz quickly became the culprit when Caleb Hanie crapped out after Cutler suffered a broken thumb.

"We did a lot of good things offensively and we're evaluating everything and Mike's a part of that. So I can't tell you,'' when asked if Martz would return in 2012. ''Mike is a guy who's been around a few years. I haven't had a chance to sit down with Mike to see exactly which way he wants to go, and which way we want to go."

Running back Matt Forte said he will undergo a physical from the Bears in two to three weeks, and he'll play in the Pro Bowl if he's cleared by the club.

"I think anybody who makes the Pro Bowl their first time would like to go out there and play," Forte said.

Last week, the Bears placed Forte on the injured reserve before the NFL announced its Pro Bowl roster. He would not be eligible to play in the Pro Bowl, but he can if he passes a physical from the team.

"I was concerned about not being able to play in it, being that it was my first time," Forte said. "But it all worked out."

The Pro Bowl is important to Forte, since it did come up in his contract negotiations with the Bears before the season.

"To me, I felt like my value was always pretty high. But obviously they didn't think it was. Before we were negotiating, I had to have a Pro Bowl or whatever," Forte said. "Obviously, that must mean a lot in negotiations. So I have now, maybe it's going up a little bit."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he had no qualms with Forte playing in the Pro Bowl.

"If Matt wants to play in the Pro Bowl, I'm all for him playing in the Pro Bowl. I think it's special when you get voted by your peers, to go to your first Pro Bowl," Smith said. "The type of year he had, even missing the last six games... But yeah, I am in favor, if Matt wants to, and he's indicated to me that he does want to play in it."

Bears coach Lovie Smith hasn't visited with general manager Jerry Angelo, team president Ted Phillips or team chairman George McCaskey.

But Smith made clear that he isn't in favor of major changes at Halas Hall.

"As I look at our team, I talk about our core. You talk about adding two first round offensive linemen back to that," Smith said, referring to guard Chris Williams and offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. "With those two offensive linemen, a franchise quarterback back on this team, a Pro Bowl running back, back on this team, then you just add the right guys, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape.

"I definitely don't think we need a complete overhaul, by any means, and our players know that. I think you see a team leaving here today, knowing that, 'Hey, we're 8-8, right now.' But we're not always going to be in this position."

In fact, Smith emphasized how strongly he feels about his offensive line.

"I would normally not talk a lot about positions," he said. "I think this is the best situation we've been in, since I've been here, with the offensive line.

"We feel pretty good about the offensive line, yes."

Brian Urlacher has MCL and PCL damage in left knee

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Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher crumpled in the end zone, after safety Major Wright drilled him in his left knee during the fourth quarter.

Players immediately waved trainers and doctors toward Urlacher, who was writhing in pain. But, after a few minutes, Urlacher was able to gingerly walk off the field.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said after the game that he had a sprained MCL ligament.

"I was just going for the ball," Wright said. "I didnt see Brian at all. Just go get the ball."

Urlacher wasn't available for comment after the game.

UPDATE: An MRI revealed that Urlacher had a sprained MCL and partially sprained PCL, according to the team. Urlacher, though, did not have any damage to his ACL.

What do you want to see today?

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The Bears didn't defend their NFC North title, and they won't even have a chance to play in the NFC title game again.

Obviously, this season has been a huge disappointment.

But, there's still a game to be played.

What do you want to see today? Is there a particular player or players who you have your eye on? Anything else that you'll be closely monitoring?

One of the things I want to see is if Josh McCown can have a strong performance against the porous Minnesota Vikings defense. I know Jared Allen would love to break the NFL sack record (he needs four more), and I know defensive end Brian Robison would love to get to 10 (he needs three more), so McCown will have to deal with some highly motivated pass rushers.

But, if the Bears o-line can provide adequate protection, then McCown will have ample opportunities to shred the Vikings' secondary.

If he does, then McCown has a real strong chance to get a contract to remain as the Bears backup heading into 2012. Not bad, considering he had so much trouble landing an NFL job in recent years.

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