Chicago Sun-Times

February 2012 Archives

Should Bears take a look at Hines Ward?

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The Bears should at least kick the tires on Hines Ward, the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who will be a free agent after the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they will release the 14-year veteran.

Ward is 35 and has a lot of miles on him. He had only 46 receptions for 381 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and two touchdowns last season. But there are enough extenuating circumstances surrounding his release that he's at least worth a look-see by a team like the Bears that needs a receiver who at least knows what it's like to be a No. 1, even if he isn't any longer.

For one thing, he suffered an ankle injury against the Cardinals in Week 7 last year that hampered him. His numbers diminished as Ben Roethlisberger gravitated to deep threats Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. But Ward still caught nearly everything thrown his way. He was targeted 39 times in his last 11 games and had 33 receptions. In the Steelers final 12 regular-season games, they were 10-0 when Ward had a reception and 0-2 when he did not.

Ward played his college ball at Georgia, where current Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake was his receivers coach his first three seasons. The Bears haven't had a whole lot of luck rekindling the fire from legacy players -- Adam Archuleta, Orlando Pace, Roy Williams. And they are unlikely to try again here. But it should not be dismissed out of hand. Ward has intangibles that Williams does not.

Bears hike ticket prices for 9th time in last 10 years

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When you're paying one guy to be your general manager and another to not be your general manager, everybody has to chip in.

So it was no surprise that coming off their fourth non-playoff season in the last five years, the Bears are raising ticket prices for the ninth time in 10 years since the opening of new Soldier Field in 2003.

The Bears announced Tuesday that prices for non-club tickets -- approximately 85 percent of the 61,000 seats at Soldier Field -- will increase from $2 to $10 for 2012. The bumps the non-club ticket range from $76-$150 per ticket. The range was $45-$85 when the new Soldier Field opened in 2003.

Anthony Adams leaves Bears with mixed emotions

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Anthony Adams, one of the Bears most grounded players, isn't angry about his release.

"I don't blame them," Adams said Monday. "I probably would have done the same thing."

After signing a two-year contract last offseason, Adams suffered a torn calf muscle that limited him during training camp and at the start of the season. Then, as he worked to get healthy, he was passed on the depth chart by other players, most notably rookie Stephen Paea.

Adams ended up playing just 25.9 percent of all defensive snaps last season.

"The longer you stay in the league, the more you start seeing all kinds of stuff," Adams said. "So I wasn't surprised by anything."

Adams is thankful that the Bears made the decision quickly, because he'll immediately become an unrestricted free agent, able to find a new NFL home before free agency officially begins March 13.

"It wouldn't make any sense to drag me along, then I get released in August or when teams are solidified," Adams said.

Now healthy, Adams said he's excited about the game.

"It's not the ideal situation," he said, "but if I can still play, that would be great."

The toughest part, of course, is leaving Chicago and his Bears teammates and coaches.

"This is a place where my kids were born at, so there's just a lot of memories, and there was a lot of growth," he said. "When I first got here, I was 26, married for like a year, no house. I bought my first house here.

"I had all three of my kids here. Went to the playoffs for the firist time here. First divisional playoffs here. There are a lot of memories."

Adams added that he doesn't think there's any locker room quite like the Bears.

"They've been great," he said of his teammates. "They're going to be forever teammates. It was great to play with those guys. I think they feel the same way."

Bears inform DT Anthony Adams of his release

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Defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who signed a two-year contract last offseason, has been informed of his release.

Adams received $1.5 million in guarantees. But, he only started four games, and he appeared in 11 total. Down the stretch, he only played in two of the final six games. He finished with 16 tackles and no sacks.

A key defender in seasons past, Adams was passed on the depth chart by younger players like Matt Toeaina, rookie Stephen Paea and newcomer Amobi Okoye. Adams is 31 years old.

Due to make $1.9 million next season, the Bears will save that money, but they'll have to endure a $750,000 acceleration for the prorated portion of his guaranteed money.

The 2011 NFL Draft was the first in three years that the Bears actually spent a first-round pick. That might explain, in part, why the selection of Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi wasn't completely smooth and without incident.

The Baltimore Ravens, of course, believed they had executed a trade with the Bears, who wanted to move up and select Carimi. But, the trade wasn't finalized, and the Bears still ended up with Carimi.

This year, under new general manager Phil Emery, the Bears have their full batch of picks, including an extra third-rounder via the trade of tight end Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers. There's quite a bit riding on that selection (ninth in the third round), since Olsen was a late first-round pick.

Many draft publications have the Bears taking Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd with the 19th overall pick. But, after Floyd ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash Sunday at the NFL Combine, I'm not sure Floyd will be around that long, particularly if he avoids any trouble between now and the draft.

That got me wondering: What if the Bears want to move up in the first round? While they have several needs, the Bears may strongly consider moving up, if there's a player they really, really like in the first round.

If they traded away the 19th pick and the third-round pick from the Panthers, the Bears could move up to the 14th or possibly the 13th overall pick, according to a CBS trade value chart that can be viewed here.

If they traded the 19th pick and their own third-round pick, the Bears could move up to the 15th pick. That may not sound like much, but that could be the difference between getting they badly want and not getting him.

I honestly don't see the Bears trading much more than that. Let's say -- hypothetically -- that they wanted to package their first and second round picks, that would only get them up to about the 11th pick. But, that's a pretty steep price. Meanwhile, the first- and fourth-round picks only moves them up one and -- if the other team is desperate or charitable -- two spots.

Ga. Tech speedster Stephen Hill bears watching at WR

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Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill sounded too good to be true during his media interview at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Friday. He's 6-4, 215. He averaged 29.3 yards per catch last season. He claims to have a 40-inch vertical. And he's as fast as any wide receiver at the Combine.

''I've been clocked in the low 4.4s,'' he said. ''I'm thinking about running a 4.3 -- but whatever happens on Sunday happens.''

Hill, projected to be drafted anywhere from the second to the fourth round, became an even more intriguing prospect for NFL teams looking for a big wide receiver (cough, cough) when he posted back-to-back 40-yard dash times of 4.30 and 4.31 at the official Combine workout Sunday morning.

Bears interested in Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus

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There are three podiums and eight round, eight-seat dinner tables for player interviews in the media center at the NFL Scouting Combine -- the podiums for the Andrew Lucks and Michael Floyds; the tables for the Isaiah Peads and Jake Bequettes.

Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, a late-bloomer in college who is rising rapidly on the draft charts, literally transitioned from the lower group to the higher one on Saturday. His media interview started at a table. But when he was inundated by reporters and cameras, he was quickly escorted to a podium.

That's how quickly things have been happening for Mercilus. The 6-3, 260-pound Akron, Ohio native was a revelation during the college season. Coming in with just two starts in three years at Illinois, he led the nation with 16 sacks, tied an NCAA record with nine forced fumbles, had 22 1/2 tackles-for-loss and won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end.

Michael Floyd eager to prove checkered past behind him

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Most NFL mock drafts still have the Bears selecting Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd with the 19th pick of the first round -- an unusually solid consensus for the 19th pick this far from draft day, as a matter of fact.

Floyd met the media on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine and most of the questions addressed the character issue -- Floyd had three alcohol-related arrests at Notre Dame, including a DUI last January.

While he was suspension from the team in the offseason and faced expulsion from the university, Floyd was reinstated and didn't miss a game after meeting a strict standard of personal rehabilitation set by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Bears OC Mike Tice gets Brian Billick seal of approval

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NFL Network and Fox analyst Brian Billick gave another ringing endorsement of Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday.

Billick, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Baltimore Ravens, was Tice's position coach for two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (1992-93). He was the offensive coordinator in 1995 when he talked Tice into coming out of retirement for the final three games of the regular season, then hired Tice as a tight ends coach the following season.

''Mike is going to do a great job,'' Billick said. ''He's going to bring a mentality -- Mike has a complete view of the game. Remember he was a head coach, and Mike has a bigger view of the game, and he has a certain mentality that is going and that's why in my opinion Lovie [Smith] made him the offensive coordinator because he wants that mentality.

''They're going to run the ball. They're going to be physical. They need some things. They need an outside receiver to give Jay Cutler - the best thing that ever happened to the Chicago Bears was Jay Cutler getting hurt because now the fans who were on him, now without him they're going, 'Oh no, no, no. We were a lot better off with him. So he's kind of pushed that off, we're not going to hear as much of that chatter I don't think.

''If they can get an outside receiver threat ... they're going to throw the ball plenty well, but that toughness that Mike brings to it, that's just what Lovie Smith wants to do in Chicago, so I think Mike will do a great job.''

Johnny Knox on pace to return in July, agent says

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The agent for Bears receiver Johnny Knox said his client is in good spirits and on track to return to full strength in July.

"His rehab has been going great," agent Marc Lillibridge told the Sun-Times. "He's on the schedule that he planned to be back by early to mid July. He feels good."

Lillibridge reiterated the encouraging update from Bears coach Lovie Smith.

"Right now with Johnny, looking at that injury, I'm just counting on him to get better each day and we'll see how it all plays out," Smith said. "There's a long road to recovery. We have time. So we'll just see how it plays out. Johnny's ready to go. Of course, he's one of our guys. And I'm hoping that he'll be OK."

Knox required surgery to stabilize a vertebra in his back after enduring a horrific hit in a 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in December.

Lillibridge said Knox hasn't had any setbacks yet and that his quality of life is "as good as it could be" now.

Lillibridge added that his client has been thankful for the support of the Bears medical staff.

"The team has been phenomenal with Johnny's rehab," Lillibridge said. "He couldn't ask for a better staff."

Most of Chandler Harnish's strengths don't show up on film. The former Northern Illinois quarterback is scrappy, smart ... articulate, confident, athletic, battle-tested -- a competitor with ''grit, tenacity and leadership traits,'' according Pro Football Weekly's Draft Guide.

Without the prototypical size or impressive arm strength, he's destined to be a late-round draft pick at best. But he doesn't take a back seat to anybody at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

''I have a chance to prove my critics wrong,'' Harnish said during an interview at Lucas Oil Stadium. ''There's a lot of people out there that don't believe I have enough arm strength or am accurate enough or have great footwork because I was a shotgun quarterback, so I want to prove to those people that I can do those things -- be comfortable, show that I have a good throwing motion and then just show my ability to interview and kind of let these coaches know what kind of person I am.''

Win or else? Lovie Smith optimistic about 2012 season

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Lovie Smith said he feels he is in a ''win-or-else'' situation in 2012 -- but no moreso than in the previous eight seasons as the Bears' head coach.

''Every year I've been a head football coach and pretty much as a position coach, I felt like we had to win the next year or else,'' Smith said Thursday morning at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. ''There's a standard that we're going to try to get accomplished. That hasn't changed at all.''

New Bears general manager Phil Emery was hired to replace Jerry Angelo with the stipulation that he retain Smith as head coach for at least the 2012 season. Emery doesn't come across as one of those guys who needs his own head coach, but he's free to make a change after the upcoming season. If the Bears don't make the playoffs in 2012, it will be the fifth time in six seasons they will not have played in the postseason.

''As far as more pressure, [the] new GM having to keep me, I don't think any of the guys looked at it that way. Hopefully they looked at it as a great situation they were coming into, a team that two years ago was in the NFC Championship game, a team that was 7-3 this past year before injuries happened. I don't look at it that way."

Jay Cutler excited about Bears' offseason changes

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You know Jay Cutler's bored when starts calling sports radio talk shows in the middle of February.

Cutler, restless in Nashville, Tenn. during a prolonged offseason after missing the last six weeks of the 2011 season, called up the ''Silvy & Waddle Show'' on WMVP-AM on Monday to wish co-host Tom Waddle a happy 45th birthday.

During a breezy, 10-minute interview with Waddle and Marc Silverman, Cutler said he was happy with the Bears' changes on their offensive coaching staff -- replacing offensive coordinator Mike Martz with Mike Tice and hiring Jeremy Bates, his former quarterbacks coach at Denver, to be the quarterbacks coach under Tice.

''Very happy. Very happy,'' Cutler said when asked about Bates. ''I've been a fan of him since I left Denver. When I left Denver, I told him that somewhere down the line hopefully we can work together. This was a good situation for us.''

Tommie Harris' wife on life support

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The wife of former Bears Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris is on life support and fighting for her life, a family friend told the Sun-Times.

Harris wife, Ashley, is 29 years old and she suffered either a stroke or brain aneurism, said family friend Bill Horn.

"We are holding on for a miracle," Horn said.

Ashley is in a hospital in Oklahoma and some of Harris' former Bears teammates are en route to lend their support. Harris was popular among his teammates while with the Bears.

Ashley gave birth to the couple's second child just four months ago.

Bears head athletic trainer headed to Penn State

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Tim Bream, who has been the Bears' head athletic trainer the last 14 seasons, is headed back to Penn State, according to a report.

Bream, born in Gettysburg, Pa., graduated from Penn State and earned his masters from Western Virginia University.

The report here said new Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien decided to part ways with George Salvaterra, who has been with the program since 1985.

"We have moved on from George, we've hired Tim Bream, he'll be the trainer and start here on Wednesday," O'Brien said, according to Lions 24/7. "He was the trainer for the Chicago Bears. I know him through NFL circles and through some people here at Penn State. He comes highly recommended and we're really excited about having him on board."

Bream worked for the Bears for 18 seasons. He also worked at Syracuse (1984-86), Vanderbilt (1986-88) and Richmond (1988-92) before joining the Bears as an assistant trainer.

'What, Chief?' Emery era begins under cone of silence

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As expected, the Bears are battening down the hatches and activating the cone of silence in preparation for their first NFL draft under general manager Phil Emery.

The Bears have alerted the media that only coach Lovie Smith will be available for an interview -- and only one -- during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 22-28. In previous years, Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo would meet with Bears beat reporters and scouts or assistants in Indy for the Combine usually would be accessible.

But Emery, who spent eight years at the Naval Academy, where ''Loose Lips Sinks Ships'' was born, made it clear that under his leadership, the Bears will divulge as little information about their wants and needs in the draft and free agency as possible.

''When it comes time to publicly assess our needs or publicly talk about players that we may target, we will not do that. OK?,'' Emery said in response to the very first question asked of him at his introductory press conference on Jan. 30. ''Because I feel that's a competitive disadvantage to do so.

Bears hire Tim Holt as offensive line coach

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The Bears filled the last significant vacancy on their coaching staff, hiring Tim Holt as offensive line coach.

He replaces Mike Tice, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.

Holt spent the last three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, working as the assistant offensive line coach in 2011.

Prior to joining the Buccaneers, Holt spent 14 seasons (1995-2008) coaching collegiately, including 10 working with offensive linemen. Holt started his collegiate coaching experience at his alma mater, Southern Connecticut State, as the tight ends/assistant offensive line coach.

He also worked at LeHigh and Cornell.

Holt played on the offensive line at Southern Connecticut State from 1991 to 1994, and he was a three-year letterman.

The Bears hired Jeremy Bates as quarterbacks coach on Tuesday.

Bears hire Jeremy Bates as QB coach

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The Bears have reached an agreement with Jeremy Bates to become the team's quarterbacks coach, the team announced today.

Bates worked three seasons in Denver with Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

Bates also has coached with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-03, offensive quality control; 2004, assistant quarterbacks), New York Jets (2005, quarterbacks) and University of Southern California (2009, assistant head coach/quarterbacks) and Seattle Seahawks (2010, offensive coordinator).

With the Broncos, Bates was an offensive assistant in 2006 then the receivers/ quarterbacks coach in 2007 and quarterbacks coach in 2008.

In 2008, Cutler threw for a franchise record 4,526 yards en route to the Pro Bowl.

Bates lettered as a quarterback at Tennessee (1995) and Rice (1997 and 1999).

If the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants are the past two Super Bowl champions, how far away can the Bears actually be?

The Bears were NFC North champions ahead of the Packers in 2010 and only lost 21-14 in the NFC Championship Game even with third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie playing most of the second half.

As for the newly crowned Super Bowl champion Giants, they were below the Bears in every NFL power ranking with six games left in the regular season. The Bears were 7-3 after beating the Chargers, while the Giants were 6-4 after losing to the Eagles and Vince Young -- the same Eagles team the Bears beat in Philly with Michael Vick at quarterback.

Even two weeks after Cutler suffered his broken thumb against the Chargers, the Bears (7-5) on a two-game losing streak still were just one spot behind the Giants (6-6) in both the ESPN and Brian Billick (Fox) power rankings.

Charles Tillman talks about his Pro Bowl experience

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INDIANAPOLIS -- After spending more than a week in Hawaii, Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman appeared at a press conference for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Tillman is a finalist, along with Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers.

We'll find out if Tillman is the winner Saturday afternoon, at the inaugural NFL Honors show.

But here are some insights from Tillman from Indy:

* On appreciating the Chicago media for respecting his family's privacy: "I think when we were in the hospital, you don't want to see your daughter or television, or the newspaper. So my wife and I were just trying to deal with it in the moment. The Chicago media was very respectful and respecting our privacy. And I'm sure everybody knew about it, but you chose to respect it. For that, I'm forever grateful. Coming out full circle now, I'm glad to share my story. I'm a football player, and I have the same problems, like everyone else. I'm human. And I just wanted to share my story with other people. I love my kids. She got sick. And I'm trying to give back, because someone did something so [amazing]. I'm trying to give back, like a complete stranger did to me and my family."

* On if he'll continue the foundation after his playing career is over: "I definitely will continue this. It's true and dear to our heart, and we're doing some good things. Ever since we changed the mission of our foundation, I can't tell you all the opportunities our foundation has been given. We've been put on a bigger platform to help more families."

* On how big his foundation has become, given its humble roots: "It's big because I don't mind doing interviews for work and things like that. But myself, and Matt and Philip and previous winners of the award don't really boast about what you do. You're not looking for publicity to say, 'My foundation does x, y, z.' You do it, because you want to do it. I really try not to be that guy. In the grand scheme of things, you have to promote your foundation. It means we've been doing some good things. We've been working hard, and it shows that it pays off."

* On if his daughter Tiana gets all the attention: "She doesn't understand completely. But she kind of has an idea. She has another heart. she doesn't know what a Berlin heart is. She does know that she has someone else's heart in her. The yucky medicine, or the good medicine. But to her, it's normal, because it's all she has ever known."

* On the Bears GM change from Jerry Angelo to Phil Emery: "Y'all probably know more about Mr. Emery than I do. I don't know his bio. Hawaii. No TV. Kids in the pool. I was one of Jerry's kids. I was a guy that Jerry drafted. I got a contract through him. It's a business, it's a process. Just like one day, I might get cut. I'm sure he understands that."

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was great to catch up with Bears running back Matt Forte, who was making the rounds today at the Media Center.

Here are some of my questions and Matt's answers from our chat:

Q: How was your first Pro Bowl?
A: It was real fun. It beats the snow. I took my mom and dad, wife, and her parents.

Q: Fairly small group...
A: I don't have the means to fly everybody out there right now.

Q: What were some of the highlights?
A: I enjoyed the beach, meeting the guys. Aaron Rodgers is a cool guy. Drew Brees, he's a cool guy.
Marshawn Lynch. [LeSean] McCoy. A lot of guys on defense, as well. A lot of guys from Carolina. I can do an impersonation of Greg [Olsen], so they liked that. It was nice to meet those dudes.

Q: What did you think of all the concern about you even playing in the Pro Bowl, given your knee injury?
A: I wouldn't have gone out there, if I wasn't 100 percent. I'm healed up and I'm ready to go.

Q: What did you think of people who didn't want you to play in the game?
A: I make my own decisions. I don't listen to the crowd, about whether I should play in the Pro Bowl or not.

Q: What's your mindset, after the Bears hired a new general manager?
A: I want to remain in Chicago and remain a Bear.

Q: Will there be a clean slate, after some tension with Jerry Angelo?
A: I never harbored hard feelings toward anybody. [Angelo] had his opinions. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. We'll continue to negotiate with them, and we'll see where it ends up at.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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