Chicago Sun-Times

April 2012 Archives

Should the Bears have taken Stanford guard David DeCastro with the 19th pick of the first round instead of Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin?

It might have been the "safer" pick. DeCastro is considered by many experts as the best guard prospect since Michigan's Steve Hutchinson, the 17th overall pick in 2001 who has been to seven Pro Bowls. And guards rated that highly have a low bust-factor. He went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th overall pick.

If DeCastro truly is a "plug-and-play" player, he could have fortified the Bears' offensive line, which has a chance to take a quantum leap this season with a healthy Jay Cutler and Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. And you can argue that if the Bears' offense improves significantly in 2012, the defense can live with Israel Idonije's five sacks. They were doing fine with that last season until Cutler was injured.

After signing 11 undrafted free agents, the Bears roster currently stands at 83 players.

The new maximum is 90 players.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Saturday he didn't feel it necessary to get to 90, just to get to 90.

Here's a look at where the roster currently stands:

Quarterbacks (4): Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, Nathan Enderle -- Bears look pretty set at this position.

Running backs (7): *Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kahlil Bell, Armando Allen, Tyler Clutts, Harvey Unga and Alvester Alexander -- Some question marks here, with Forte not having signed his franchise tender, and Phil Emery casting some doubt about the need of a true fullback after drafting Evan Rodriguez. That, of course, would affect Clutts. For now, the Bears seem set at the position.

Experts giving Bears get mostly C's for 2012 draft

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Grading an NFL team's draft is even more of an inexact science than the draft itself. The New England Patriots received mostly B's for their 2000 draft, but the two most important acquisitions weren't even considered: coach Bill Belichick from the New York Jets for their first-round pick (16th overall) and quarterback Tom Brady of Michigan in the sixth round (199th overall).

Brady, of course, has been the best player in the entire draft, with the Bears' Brian Urlacher (ninth overall) No. 2. Belichick has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, with three championships. The Patriots' first-round pick ended up with the 49ers, who took eventual five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson. But it was well worth trading the pick for New England.

So with that in mind, here are some post-draft grades on the Bears' 2012 draft.


MEL KIPER, JR. ESPN: C+ (overall); C+ (needs); C (value)

''Shea McClellin is a good player and will help out the pass rush, but I didn't see him going quite this high. I just don't think he has quite the ceiling of a guy like Whitney Mercilus. But he at least fills a need. Alshon jeffery gives them another option at wide receiver, but needs to prove he can do more than bdeat defenders using size to get to passes. For one, he's not as big as he'd been listed for several years, and he must get better as a route-runner. Can he separate? it's still a question. Brando Hardin was a reach, though he'll stick. My big question is about needs. The Bears just don't have a lot of talent on the offensive line. Gabe Carimi will be back, but I'm really surprised they had six picks and didn't get a single offensive lineman. Even if it wasn't a big need, I'd want to get a young guy in there. The Bears also didn't get a defensive tackle, which I had as a need.''

(It should be noted that by Kiper's ratings, the Bears in effect ''drafted'' an offensive tackle by signing Troy's James Brown, whom Kiper had rated as the 54th best player in the draft, as an undrafted free agent.)

The first question for Lovie Smith after the Bears completed their NFL draft Saturday came from Lovie Smith.

''Where will [Shea McClellin] play? He's not a linebacker -- let's start with that,'' Smith said, answering his own question in his opening remarks. ''He'll have his hand down in a three-point stance from Day One and he'll be in the defensive line room. We can't wait to get started with him. We think he can be an excellent pass rusher in the league. He's excited about competing with the other defensive ends.''

Lovie's attitude about McClellin in response to questions about the Boise State defensive end gave me more uncertainty and doubt about the Bears' draft than anything else. The advantage of a player like McClellin is his versatility -- Boise State got the most out of him by moving him around.

With his athleticism and motor at 6-3 and 260 pounds, McClellin theoretically can add a dimension of unpredictability to the Bears' defense it currently does not have. If McClellin is as good as advertised, he'd be one more player an opposing quarterback has to find before the snap. Besides Julius Peppers.

Overlooked OT/G James Brown heads Bears UnFA list

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The Bears agreed to terms with 11 undrafted free agents following the completion of the 2012 draft, including Troy offensive tackle James Brown, who was projected as a third- or fourth-round pick and was 54th overall on Mel Kiper, Jr.'s draft board. Another amateur draft board rated Brown ahead of Illinois OT Jeff Allen -- the King High School product who went 44th overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bears' other undrafted free agents are Western Illinois WR Terriun Crump, Wyoming RB Alvester Alexander, Old Dominion DT Ronnie Cameron, Louisiana Tech LB Adrien Cole, Maine S Trevor Coston, West Texas A&M WR Britton Golden, Albany OT A.J. Greene, Wayne State S Jeremy Jones, Liberty WR Chris Summers and Southern Mississippi LB Ronnie Thornton.

The 6-3, 306-pound Brown was highly rated coming after the college season despite being raw and having played against top-flight competition. But he lost ground at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, where he reportedly did not show the quickness necessary to compete against NFL defensive linemen. Still, he's still an intriguing prospect because of his athleticism and versatility -- he also is a prospect at guard.

The scouting report on Brown in Pro Football Weekly's draft guide indicates he's got more than a snowball's chance to make it in the NFL: Good footwork and arm-length, humble yet aggressive (''fiery on-field temperament'') and he can carry more weight. His negatives mostly involve technique -- not usually an automatic a deal-killer for NFL prospects from small colleges who have the ability to learn. Whether or not he has that trait will be key. Guys like Brown usually have to go to the right team at the right time -- the Bears certainly qualify as that kind of "fit" for James Brown.

The Bears took TCU cornerback Greg McCoy in the seventh round (220th overall) to conclude Phil Emery's first draft as general manager Saturday.

The 5-10, 181-pound McCoy will compete for a roster spot at cornerback, but his best chance will be on special teams. McCoy ranked sixth nationally in kickoff returns last season with 30.6 yards per return. He was Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year.

He's no slouch at cornerback. McCoy, a Dallas product, was the Poinsettia Bowl defensive MVP after returning an interception 24 yards to set up a tying touchdown in TCU's 31-24 victory over Louisiana Tech. But he'll be in a crowded field that includes newcomers Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite and sixth-round pick Isaiah Frey of Nevada, who general manager Phil Emery called ''most skilled corner at the back end of the draft.''

"He's going to have every opportunity to compete for that fifth or sixth corner, depending on how many we keep,'' Emery said about McCoy. ''We have kept as many as six, normally we keep five. There's going to be an awfully good competitive mix since we've brought in Jonathan [Wilhite] and Kelvin [Hayden] to find out who makes that team and he'll be given that opportunity to along with Isaiah [Frey]. The more you can do, the better your chances are. Greg's got a chance with his return [ability], Isaiah has to show us he can be a gunner and be a guy on (special) teams."

In the sixth round, the Bears selected Nevada cornerback Isaiah Frey.

At least from NFL analysts and pundits, Frey didn't foster a whole lot of buzz or excitement. CBS Sports had him ranked as the 453rd best prospect, the 48th best at his position.

But, Frey has what every other Bears draft pick has: size and speed.

He's 5 foot 10, 190 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. Those are impressive numbers.

He led the Wolf Pack with five interceptions, and he was named a preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated. But, he wasn't overwhelming enough to get an invite to the NFL Combine or many post-season all-star games.

A three-year starter, he led his conference with 21 pass break ups last season.

It's rarely a good sign when the first question to the GM about the player he just drafted is: ''Has he been charged with anything?''

Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez comes to the Bears with significant baggage. He was accused of felony assault at West Virginia after an alleged altercation with a female residence hall advisor. He transferred to Temple as a result of that incident. At Temple, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and also missed one game for breaking a team rule.

But the Bears say that extensive background research with trainers, coaches, former trainers and former coaches, and even with Rodriguez himself, have allayed fears about his character. Rodriguez said that's all in the past.

''We all make mistakes,'' the 6-1 1/2, 244-pound Rodriguez said. ''It's growing pains as long as you learn from your mistakes ... They believed in me. I'm just happy to get the opportunity. I'm not going to let them down.''

With their fourth-round pick, the Bears selected Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez.

Described by NFLDraftScout.com possibly as "a poor man's Aaron Hernandez," Rodriguez started his collegiate career at West Virginia but ended up at Temple. He moved all over, playing multiple positions and some NFL teams considered him as a fullback.

That's not a surprise, since he's 6 foot 1 1/2, and about 240 pounds.

Current Temple coach Steve Addazio was the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, and he coached Hernandez.

Rodriguez had 479 receiving yards last season and scored two touchdowns for Temple, modest numbers to say the least.

He's also had to answer questions about his character, but Emery downplayed those. In a psychological evaluation the team gives players, Rodriguez scored a nine out of 10.

"To find this guy, to be the right fit for us, is a good find for the Bears," Emery said.

"Right role, right fit for a player and a team."

Under Mike Tice, the Bears needed a hybrid tight end/ fullback who could block but also get down the field. With his 4.5 speed, Rodriguez can get up the field in a hurry.

Drew Butler learned plenty from his father Kevin

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Drew Butler still fondly remembers the end of his father's tenure, as the Bears placekicker.

"I was the biggest Bears fan ever. I'm still a Bears fan. I don't think that'll ever change," Drew Butler said. "Chicago always will hold a special place in my heart."

Butler didn't exactly follow in his father's footsteps but the path is quite similar.

Butler is one of the top-rated punters in the upcoming NFL Draft, talented enough that he's projected to be selected instead of signed as a priority free agent. His future, though, won't be with the Bears, since they signed Adam Podlesh to a five-year, $10 million contract last offseason.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina was one of the team's top-3 rated receivers.

When I later asked him about Jeffery being the third-rated, Emery interrupted me and clarified that he didn't say that there were two better.

"He was the highest rated player on our board," Emery said of the player they gave up a fifth-round pick to move up five spots in the second round to take. "He was very high on our wideout list.
He was in our top 3. He has the best hands. Best at adjusting. Best sideline and end zone.

"He's dynamic with the ball in his hands."

That begs the question: Who were the other two receivers?

Justin Blackmon had to be one, but I wonder if the Bears may have red-flagged Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.

The Bears brought in Kendall Wright of Baylor for a visit, and he doesn't have any character concerns. Neither does Stephen Hill, the Georgia Tech receiver that at least Bears coach Lovie Smith saw in person.

The Bears had clubs behind them willing to trade up for the 19th overall pick.

In theory, that may have been the ideal move, since Boise State defensive end/ outside linebacker Shea McClellin was projected by many pundits to go later in the first round.

But, according to two league sources, the Bears would have been taking a big risk given the interest in McClellin.

The Green Bay Packers were widely rumored to be interested in McClellin, but they had the 28th overall pick.

The team that may have tried to make a move?

Perhaps the New England Patriots.

One of the more aggressive teams, in terms of trading draft picks, the Patriots traded their No. 27 pick and a third-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up to No. 21 to select Chandler Jones, a defensive end from Syracuse.

Heading into the draft, the Patriots were among the teams reportedly intrigued with McClellin's versatility.

Marc Colombo retired a Dallas Cowboy last Friday, 10 years to the day the Bears drafted him with the 29th pick of the 2002 NFL draft.

It was a joyous anniversary for Colombo, but not so for the Bears. Colombo's retirement was a bitter reminder of all the draft mishaps that ultimately doomed star-crossed Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who was fired after the 2011 season.

Angelo's first draft pick as the Bears' general manager suffered a major injury. His last draft pick as the Bears' general manager suffered a major injury. And seemingly every draft pick in-between met the same fate:

There's no such thing as a perfect draft -- through the Steelers drafting four Hall of Famers in 1974 (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) is pretty close. The Bears did pretty well in 1964, drafting Dick Butkus fourth overall and Gale Sayers fifth. Both are in the Hall of Fame, but neither played in a postseason game.

The gold standard of Bears drafts still is 1983, when they drafted seven players who became starters on the 1985 Super Bowl team -- OT Jim Covert (first round), WR Willie Gault (first), CB Mike Richardson (second), SS Dave Duerson (fourth), G Tom Thayer (fourth), DE Richard Dent (eighth) and G Mark Bortz (eighth). And they signed another starter, WR Dennis McKinnon, as an undrafted free agent.

That's still the most starters from one draft on a Super Bowl winning team. It was so good that even an embarrassing gaffe turned into gold. Barricaded in their war room, the Bears drafted Thayer without realizing he had signed with the USFL's Chicago Blitz and former Bears assistant George Allen hours earlier.

Bears general manager Jim Finks admitted the mistake but didn't flinch. ''Looking at the bright side, he'll get some fine coaching and maybe end up in our stable someday.''

Finks turned out to be right. Thayer played three seasons in the USFL, then signed with the Bears in time for the 1985 season. He started at right guard on the Super Bowl team and played eight seasons for the Bears.

It was a fortunate recovery, but Finks made his own luck by drafting a good player in the first place. When Finks came to the Bears in 1974, he inherited the fourth overall pick in 1975 and drafted running back Walter Payton one pick after the Colts took guard Ken Huff and one pick before the Browns took defensive end Mack Mitchell.

Finks had a golden touch. He drafted eight Hall of Fame players with the Vikings, Bears and Saints. His first No. 1 pick in the NFL was Carl Eller. His last No. 1 pick was Willie Roaf, who is going into the Hall of Fame 18 years after Finks died of cancer in 1994.

Finks wasn't perfect. He once traded a fifth-round draft pick he didn't have. In 1979, the Bears were ready to draft Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana with their third-round pick before Finks took Montana's name off the board and selected running back Willie McClendon. (You could argue that Finks had a hand in turning four losing franchises into winners: the Vikings, Bears, Saints -- and 49ers.)

But he had a knack for evaluating players, managing people and surrounding himself with those he trusted. It's no coincidence that the Bears front office was mired in dysfunction before he arrived and since he left. Even if Phil Emery has a great 2012 draft, it can't be ignored that his job is much bigger than that.

Bears now have $5 million in salary cap space

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The Bears shifted just enough, mostly with the latest Lance Briggs contract, to have $5 million in salary cap space, according to a league source.

But after having more space than any other club in the NFC North, the Bears are now second-to-last.

The Minnesota Vikings lead the way with about $13 million in space, followed by the Green Bay Packers with $8 million. Then the Bears, then the Detroit Lions with $4 million in space.

Seven picks that would make Bears draft a winner

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Phil Emery inherited a better roster than most first-year general managers -- if not for Jay Cutler's fluke injury, there's little doubt the 2011 Bears were an 11-5 or 12-4 playoff team. That's not a very big "if" either.

That said, because the Bears' core is dominated by players 30 and older, Emery not only has to find a player or two to maintain the Bears' standing as an NFC contender, he also needs to start building a foundation for the future if he intends to avoid a precipitous fall when Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman no longer are Pro Bowl players.

You can't do that in one draft, but you can try. Here's a projected Bears draft that could fill immediate needs and long-term needs at the same time:

First round (19th overall pick): WHITNEY MERCILUS, DE, Illinois

He has everything the Bears are looking for in a pass-rusher. With Israel Idonije in the fold, Mercilus would have a great opportunity to step in as a pass-rush specialist. Moves very well in a straight line. Alternate pick: David DeCastro, G, Stanford.

RB Kahlil Bell signs one-year tender for 2012

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The Bears gained a small, but not insignificant, measure of leverage against a possible holdout by Matt Forte when backup running back Kahlil Bell signed his one-year tender offer Monday. Bell will make $1.26 million in 2012.

Bell, 25, played in five games after Forte suffered a knee injury and rushed for 337 yards on 79 carries (4.3 yards per carry). He also had 19 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown.

The 5-11, 219-pound Bell had one of the Bears' six 100-yard rushing games -- gaining 121 yards on 23 carries (5.3 per carry) in a 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 25. He also had four receptions for 38 yards in that game. His 159 yards from scrimmage was the fifth best single-game total for a Bears running back last year.

Jonathan Martin statistics similar to Matt Kalil

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Matt Kalil of USC is universally considered the top left tackle in this NFL Draft class.

The Minnesota Vikings are considering him with the third overall pick, although he could drop if he's not taken in that spot.

But, according to STATS, Stanford's Jonathan Martin had similar success last season in the Pac-12.

Kalil allowed just three quarterback knockdowns, one hurry and two sacks. But Martin allowed three knockdowns, five hurries and a single sack in 2011.

There are a lot of questions about Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation with 16 sacks.

Is he better suited for the 4-3 or 3-4? Is he a one-year wonder?

But, according to STATS LLC, Mercilus had a remarkable season that topped J.J. Watt, the defensive end for the Houston Texans who was selected 11th overall last year. While Watt had just 5 1/2 sacks during the regular season, he intercepted a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Texans' first playoff game and returned it for a touchdown in a 17-10 win. Then, against the Baltimore Ravens, Watt had 2 1/2 sacks.

Second-round could be vital to GM Phil Emery, Bears

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Phil Emery is expected to improve the Bears' record in the first round of the NFL draft. When Jerry Angelo was fired, not one of his first-round picks in 10 years as the Bears' general manager was on the active roster -- just Chris Williams (14th overall in 2008) and Gabe Carimi (29th overall in 2011). Even Jay Cutler, whom Angelo acquired for two first-round draft picks, was inactive at the end of the Angelo era.

But it wouldn't hurt Emery to upgrade the Bears' record in the second round as well. While Charles Tillman (2003) and Matt Forte (2008) made the Pro Bowl last season and Devin Hester (2006) could have made it after leading the NFL in punt returns, Angelo didn't get enough out of his recent second-round picks to mitigate the damage of his subpar record in the first round.

As he approaches three months on the job, Bears general manager Phil Emery already has seen enough to feel good about his scouting staff.

"I'm excited to show what our staff is. We have really good people here. It's been great to reunite with several of them. Going back to the first time I had an opportunity to talk to everybody, I've been in two different other places, through a couple of staff changes, a staff change at one of them, working with different people. The area scouts here are as fine as you're going to find in the NFL," Emery said. "They know how to go about their job. They're very professional. So I'm excited to see how we do as a group and as a team in attacking the question of whose the best player that's going to help us now, at each level, each spot in the draft, at each one of our picks, that brings us closer to a championship."

Contracts for all of the team's scouts will expire in May but the expectation is that most -- if not all -- of them will remain with the Bears. Emery may do some shifting, especially since he didn't retain player personnel director Tim Ruskell, who oversaw the college and pro departments. In addition, pro scout Dennard Wilson left during the NFL Combine to become the St. Louis Rams defensive quality control coach.

The Emery Board: Who are the Magnificent 7?

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Bears GM Phil Emery says he's targeting ''about seven players'' for the 19th pick of the first round of the NFL draft Thursday. I'm not quite well-versed in Emery-speak yet, but my intuition tells me it's Phil's way of giving us something to chew on for a few days before the draft. In other words, it means little to nothing.

That said, I'll take the bait. Without having been in on any of the Bears' pre-draft discussions, it's hard to tell how they think or what the parameters are of the target list. Does it include South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who according to my sources would be a near-perfect fit for the Bears' defense but is generally considered to be long gone by No. 19? Does it include Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who doesn't fill a priority need and isn't likely to be available but would be tough to pass up if he drops as some suspect he might?

With that in mind, here's an educated guess on players who should be on the list, with the likelihood of them being on the board at 19 being the biggest factor:

Bears general manager Phil Emery said he and his staff are targeting ''a core of about seven players'' with the 19th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. But after trading for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, Emery indicated the Bears could go in many directions with that pick.

''What we've done in free agency really allows us a chance to go one way or the other,'' Emery said Monday at a pre-draft press conference at Halas Hall. ''We can draft into a perceived strength so that we make sure we get the player that's going to help us win a championship the quickest way possible. Or we can go and fill maybe what we perceive as a need. So it has given us great flexibility.''

The Bears' biggest needs are generally considered to be at defensive end, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive tackle and cornerback. But Emery didn't rule anything out. ''We're very oriented towards finding the player that's going to get us there the fastest,'' he said.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was reluctant to add a No. 1 receiver, believing in Devin Hester and the emergence of Johnny Knox. But former Bears player personnel director Tim Ruskell said the Bears planned to address that position this offseason.

"That's something that needed to be done, especially with the injury to Johnny," Ruskell said last week. "That was a hit to that group. We obviously would have looked at that very hard."

There were several options via free agency, most notably former San Diego Chargers star receiver Vincent Jackson. But, this was also considered a fairly talented rookie receiver class.

New Bears general manager Phil Emery traded two third-round picks for Brandon Marshall. So what does Ruskell think?

"Very talented player. That's never in question. It's just the fit, in terms of any issues he may have had. You have to make that decision. Is this something you want to take on? Is this person going to be disruptive?" Ruskell said. "That's the decision on Marshall, not the talent level.

"That's one you have to do all your homework. And if you're going to make a decision on a guy like that, you have to make sure everyone is comfortable, and you've turned over every rock, and weigh that against the risks and rewards."

Ruskell said it's important to be mindful of the right chemistry in the locker room.

"If you bring in one guy who is divisive, that can create problems that are hard to overcome," he said.

Nebraska DE Jared Crick says he's healthy

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Before his senior season at Nebraska, defensive end Jared Crick was projected as a first-round pick.

In his two previous seasons, Crick had tallied 9 1/2 sacks in each, and he showed the ability to play defensive end or defensive tackle, and he flashed enough versatility to fit in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.

But a torn pectoral muscle ended his 2011 season early, and his NFL Draft stock plummeted, with some projections having him go as low as the fourth round.

Crick doesn't lament his situation.

"I was very excited that people thought that highly of me before the injury. It doesn't really bother me," Crick said after working out at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. "The way I figure it, I'll have an opportunity in an NFL camp, just like others taken before or after me, and I have to make the most of my opportunities, when they arrive.

"If I play hard and work hard, everything will work out in the end. For me, it's a, 'You never know.' I could go high, or not go at all. But you have to come to reality, and just come back and work.
It would be awesome if I got picked. But I know I'll have an opportunity."

The Bears may address the defensive end position in the first round. But, if they don't, Crick could be an option in the second- or third-round.

Crick isn't known for his explosiveness, rather his relentlessness.

He's worked hard to get himself in optimal shape, benching 225 pounds 26 times at Nebraska's Pro Day. That was something he had to prove not only to the NFL but himself.

"If my pec wasn't healthy, teams wouldn't even give me a second look," Crick said. "Everything has been coming around. I've gotten faster, since the combine."

So how healthy is he? He doesn't plan to be limited, once he joins an NFL team.

"That's the plan. I wouldn't want to be the guy who they're going to have to slow down for," he said. "I'm back where I was before the injury, and I'm getting stronger. I'm ahead of where I should be."

Crick lauded the Cornhuskers' program for stressing the importance of nutrition. But, he said learned a lot more from Gatorade.

"Just how much I thought I knew that I really didn't," Crick said. "Finding out what more I could do to add on to those things I learned at Nebraska, so I could separate from people who aren't doing those things. It's been immensely helpful."

Specifically, he said there's a lot more he can do to fuel his body before a workout.

"I want to see how well that works out for me," he said.

Like almost anyone else who has parlayed the impact of television and his own forceful personality into king-of-the-hill success, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper probably is everything both his supporters and detractors think he is.

Whether or not he's the best or the worst NFL draft expert in the world, he has two things going for him that are undeniable: He does his homework and he's been doing it for a long time -- since 1979 to be exact.

No matter how often he might strike out, he's hit enough home runs to be respected. He had Jerry Rice going fourth overall in 1985 (the 49ers took him at No. 16), Randy Moss seventh in 1998 (the Vikings took him at No. 21) and Aaron Rodgers third in 2005 (the Packers took him at No. 24). Even on his worst day, Mel is at least Adam Dunn.

So while there literally are hundreds of mock drafts available on the internet, Mel Kiper's is worthy of more respect than most. And he has the Bears taking Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus with the 19th pick of the first round.

''I don't like one-year wonders,'' he said, referring to Mercilus' breakout junior season with a nation-leading 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. ''But you're not taking him in the top 10-15. He would look good in a Bear uniform.''

Most, if not all signs, point to the Bears taking a defensive player with the 19th pick of the first round in the NFL draft next week. Among players who are likely to be available and worthy of the 19th overall pick, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is considered a good fit for Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense. But Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in sacks (16) and had nine forced fumbles in 2011, might be the most intriguing.

Defensive ends are hit-and-miss at almost any stage of the draft. The last three top-five picks were LSU's Tyson Jackson (No. 3 to the Chiefs in 2009), Virginia's Chris Long (No. 2 to the Rams in 2008) and Clemson's Gaines Adams (No. 4 to the Buccaneers in 2007). At No. 19 it's particularly dicey.

But NFL network draft analyst Mike Mayock indicated the late-blooming Mercilus might be worth the risk for the Bears. The scouting report on Mercilus is enticing. But so were the scouting reports on Tyson Jackson -- and he went third overall.

What to make of it? I asked Mayock if there was anything about Mercilus that makes him any more or less of a risk than previous defensive ends drafted in the second half of the first round. Here's what he said:

Bears sign LB Geno Hayes

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The Bears announced a one-year contract with veteran linebacker Geno Hayes, who played the last four seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bears also released receiver Max Komar.

A sixth-round pick, Hayes started 42 of 56 games at outside linebacker for the Bucs. He's 6 foot 1, 226 pounds, and he's a versatile player who also has been a contributor on special teams.

According to STATS, Hayes has a knack for stuffs, tackles of rushers for negative yards. He has 29.5 of those since entering the league in 2008, the second-most of any defensive player.

Hayes provides much needed veteran depth, given the number of young linebackers currently on the roster.

Tim Ruskell, who was relieved of his duties as Bears player personnel director Jan. 30, has no plans to retire.

But neither does his longtime friend Jerry Angelo.

"Jerry is such a positive guy," Ruskell told the Sun-Times. "He's in a good mindset. He's moving forward, and getting on with things. We talk about the game. And stuff outside of the game. He's doing good.

"Not in the retiring mode, that's for sure. He's been a tireless worker all his life. So he enjoys that."

Ruskell, who worked for the Bears for two seasons, has enjoyed time with his family, and he re-connected with some people in Florida. But, he doesn't want to sit out for long, and neither does Angelo.

"It's hard to just sit on the porch, in a rocker. So nobody is thinking that way," Ruskell said. "We both have passion for this."

Angelo was dogged by rumors that he was thinking of retirement, and some speculated that he was hand-picking his successor in Ruskell. But Ruskell said that wasn't the case.

"Jerry saw a fit for me with his staff. He wasn't talking about retiring, at all," Ruskell said.

Veteran LB Rocky McIntosh visits Bears

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Veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh visited the Bears on Tuesday, according to a league source.

The Bears have hosted several veteran players, without signing them, likely so they can make a move after the draft, depending on what positions they address.

ESPN Chicago first reported the Bears interest in McIntosh.

And for good reason.

A former second-round pick, McIntosh has been a durable and productive player. In six seasons, he's missed just four games. But, he lost his starting spot last season to Perry Riley.

McIntosh is appealing because of his ability to play inside and outside linebacker, and his extensive experience (69 starts).

McIntosh is 29 years old.

The Bears are thin behind starters Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach, with the likes of Dom DeCicco, Patrick Trahan, Jabara Williams, J.T. Thomas and Blake Costanzo, who was signed primarily for special teams reasons.

Bears 2012 schedule

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A quick look at the Bears 2012 schedule.

Sunday, Sept. 9 - Bears vs. Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field noon (CBS)

Thursday, Sept. 13 - Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field 7:20 p.m. (NFLN)

Sunday, Sept. 23 - Bears vs. St. Louis Rams, at Soldier Field noon (FOX)

Monday, Oct. 1 - Bears vs. Dallas Cowboys, at Cowboys Stadium 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Oct. 7 - Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field at 3:05 p.m. (FOX)

Sunday, Oct. 14 - Bye Week

Monday, Oct. 22 - Bears vs. Detroit Lions at Soldier Field at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Oct. 28 - Bears vs. Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field at noon (FOX)

Sunday, Nov. 4 - Bears vs. Tennessee Titans at LP Field at Noon (FOX)

Sunday, Nov. 11 - Bears vs. Houston Texans at Soldier Field at7:20 p.m. (NBC)

Monday, Nov. 19 - Bears vs. San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Nov. 25 - Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field at noon (FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 2 - Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field at noon (FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 9 - Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at noon (FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 16 - Bears vs. Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field at noon (FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 23 - Bears vs. Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium at 3:15 p.m. (FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 30 - Bears vs. Detroit Lions at Ford Field at noon (FOX)

Overall, based on their opponents 2011 records, the Bears schedule is tied for 20th toughest in the NFL with several other teams, including Lions.

But the Vikings have the ninth toughest schedule, and the Packers have the second-easiest.

The start to the season is fairly generous. Yes, they've got a road game at Lambeau Field, on Thursday night. But their other two games are against the two worst teams from 2011: the Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Rams. Sure, both teams could be much improved. But, Bears need to handle business at home.

I think the tough part of the schedule is at the end of the season, when the Bears host the Packers, then head on the road against the Arizona Cardinals then the Lions. Also, I think it's a disadvantage, especially for a team with several players over 30, to have the bye so early in the year.

What are your thoughts on the schedule?

Harvey Unga rejoins Bears

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It's been a strange NFL journey for former Brigham Young running back Harvey Unga since he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft.

Unga, who has left the Bears twice for personal reasons, was reinstated to the active roster, and he's able to participate in the offseason program now.

What his role, however, is unclear, since the Bears have a new general manager, and they have much more depth at the position.

The Bears have signed Michael Bush, and they appeared to have found a quality fullback in Tyler Clutts.

Unga showed some flashes during the preseason last year. But, he was placed on the reserve/ left squad list last September.

The Bears kicked off their voluntary workouts at Halas Hall today, and the only significant no-show was Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte. The team placed a franchise tag on him, but Forte is seeking a long-term contract.

The Bears replaced longtime head athletic trainer Tim Bream with one of his longtime assistants.

On Friday, the Bears announced the promotion of Chris Hanks, who enters his 13th season with the Bears, to head athletic trainer. In addition, Bobby Slater has been promoted to assistant head athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation.

Prior to joining the Bears, Hanks spent 11 years at the University of Richmond, including his final three and a half years as head athletic trainer. Hanks received a bachelor of sciences degree from Ohio University and a master of sports management degree from Richmond.

Slater enters his 14th season with the Bears, after starting as a training camp intern. He was a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Mississippi State from 1997 to 1999. He received his bachelor of science degree from Florida Southern College and a masters of science degree from Mississippi State.

Bream had been with the Bears for 19 years, but he returned to his alma mater, Penn State, after the 2011 season ended.

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who received a one-year extension Wednesday, knows all too well what running back Matt Forte is going through right now.

Briggs was the last Bears player to have the franchise tag on him, and he was rewarded with a six-year, $36 million when he became an unrestricted free agent.

In the past, Briggs has supported Forte's delicate situation, but he wasn't interested in weighing in too strongly on Wednesday.

"He's a grown man and I'd tell him to do what he feels is right," Briggs said. "You do what you feel is right because I can't come in his house and say that I'm going to feed his family and neither can you and neither can anybody else.

"It's up to him to feed his family, and it's his life and his career. He knows what his value is and I think all of us know what his value is."

Briggs diplomatically said he and Forte have "two different situations."

"We're dealing with two different type of deals," he said. "I hope that his situation gets resolved soon. I want him to be happy."

The Bears used the franchise tender on Forte, but he's looking for a long-term deal, so he's expected to skip the voluntary workouts. He must sign the franchise tender by the 10th week of the regular season, however, if he wants credit for the 2012 season. Otherwise, he'll be in the same position next offseason, with the Bears able to place the franchise tender on him again.

Despite some rocky stretches, perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs look as though he'll finish his entire career with the Bears.

"My dream is to retire a Bear. And I know that I will retire a Bear," Briggs said in a conference call Wednesday. "I'm just excited. I'm so juiced that everything happened fast, and I can prepare for a championship year."

The Bears added a year to Briggs' current deal, which means he's signed through 2014 now. For all intents and purposes, he's on a three-year, $17.5 million contract, with $5 million fully guaranteed, according to a league source.

The website Pro Football Talk first reported the contract terms.

For 2012, Briggs will make an extra $2.25 million, then he's due a $1 million roster bonus in June 2013.

In 2014, Briggs is scheduled to make a base salary of $4.75 million, but that isn't guaranteed. He's also scheduled to receive a $500,000 roster bonus.

"It was a very smooth process," Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus said. "I hate the clichés. But it's a double positive. For Lance, we respect the fact that the Bears did a deal, despite him having two years left. And they appreciate what Lance means to that organization and that, basically, they took the added money and guaranteed.

"It's a very classy move by the team."

Rosenhaus met with new Bears general manager Phil Emery at the NFL Combine, and they agreed to chat again after free agency. At the NFL Owners meeting, Rosenhaus again met with Emery and Bears contract negotiator Cliff Stein, and they accelerated talks.

"I'm grateful. I'm just very appreciative right now, that the work has been recognized and that it got handled as fast as it did," Briggs said.

Not surprisingly, Briggs has been excited about Emery's moves.

"It's like a miracle, with what they've done," Briggs said. "This offseason is extremely aggressive.
I know every team is looking at the moves the Bears have done, and know that we're a contender.

"Would I call us the dream team? No. I would not. But we're a championship caliber team."

Bears soothe LB Lance Briggs with one-year extension

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With Matt Forte still disgruntled over contract issues, the Bears averted another possible offseason/training camp distraction by giving seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs a one-year extension through the 2014 season.

Briggs was scheduled to earn $3.75 million in 2012 and $6.25 million in 2013 in the final two years of a six-year, $36 million contract he signed in 2008. But after making the Pro Bowl in the first three years of that contract, he asked the Bears to renegotiate the deal and when Bears general manager Jerry Angelo declined that request he asked for a trade toward the end of training camp last year.

While obviously and publicly unhappy, Briggs had another excellent season in 2011, making the Pro Bowl for the seventh consecutive season. Briggs, who turned 31 in November, played all 16 games and led the Bears with 147 tackles (86 solo), with one interception, three pass-breakups and two forced fumbles.

Forte expected to skip Bears' offseason program

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The Bears likely will open their voluntary offseason workout program without disgruntled running back Matt Forte on Monday at Halas Hall.

''The word is that he's not going to be [there], but that's just rumors,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday on ''The Silvy & Waddle Show'' on WMVP-AM. ''I know it's going to be hard for Matt to not be there. I think he's pretty disappointed at how things have gone. But it's a business for both sides. The Bears have to do what's best for them in the long run. Matt has to do what's best for him in the long run.''

Bears coach Lovie Smith is prepared to start the offseason program without his dependable running back. Forte has hinted that he would skip the voluntary workouts and maybe the start of training camp if he has not signed a long-term contract. Forte became a free agent after completing his four-year rookie contract in 2011. But after the Bears placed the franchise tag on him, Forte's only option is to sign the Bears' one-year offer of $7.7 million for 2012.

''I tell the guys if you have an issue with your contract, [the offseason] is the time to work on those things. That's what Matt is going through right now,'' Smith said Tuesday prior to a luncheon at Maryville Academy to honor linebacker Brian Urlacher as the Bears' Ed Block Courage Award winner. ''We start up Monday. Hopefully he'll be there. If he's not, we're going to go to work with the players we have.''

Amobi Okoye signs with Buccaneers

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Amobi Okoye's stint with the Bears lasted just one season.

Okoye on Saturday night agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a league source confirmed.

The 10th overall pick in 2007 of the Houston Texans, Okoye started one of 16 games for the Bears last season and posted four sacks.

The Bears wanted to re-sign him, but at a steep discount, given their investment at the position already.

Last year, the Bears moved up in the second round to select Stephen Paea.

Bears sign Kelvin Hayden to one-year deal

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After several flirtations, the Bears signed Chicago native Kelvin Hayden.

Hayden, who attended Hubbard High School, played at Joliet Junior College before transferring to the University of Illinois. He was a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2005, and he had his best season in 2007, when he started all 16 games and intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles. His most memorable play came against the Bears, when he returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

But Hayden, who turns 29 in July, hasn't played an entire season since 2007. Last season, for the Atlanta Falcons, Hayden intercepted two passes in eight games.

He started just one game.

Hayden is 6 foot, and nearly 200 pounds.

UPDATE: Later Thursday evening, the Bears also announced the signing of cornerback Jonathan Wilhite to a one-year deal. A fourth-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2008, Wilhite has started 15 of 54 games in his career with four interceptions. He's 5 foot 11, 185 pounds, and he played in 15 games (two starts) for the Denver Broncos last season.

Peyton Manning, RG3 on tap for Bears in preseason

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The NFL exhibition season generally is a pretty worthless exercise, especially for those playing full-price to watch it -- or not watch, it as the case may be. But the Bears' preseason won't be lacking for interesting story lines -- with Peyton Manning's debut at quarterback with the Denver Broncos topping the list.

With games against the Broncos (Aug. 9-12), and Washington Redskins (Aug. 16-19) at Soldier Field and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (Aug. 24) and Cleveland Browns (Aug. 30) on the road, the Bears could face Peyton Manning, Caleb Hanie, Robert Griffin III, Rex Grossman and Eli Manning in the preseason.

Manning, released by the Indianapolis Colts, signed with the Broncos as a free agent. Hanie, who played for the Bears the past four seasons, also signed with the Broncos as a free agent.

Griffin, the former Baylor star quarterback, is expected to be selected by the Redskins with the No. 2 pick of the NFL draft.

The Bears preseason contests versus the Broncos, Redskins and Browns will be produced and broadcast by the Chicago Bears Network in high definition. Each game will be shown live on WFLD-TV in Chicago. All four exhibition games will be broadcast on WBBM-AM (780) and WBBM-FM (105.9), with Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer in the booth and Zach Zaidman reporting from the sidelines.

NFL open to more changes to uniform

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell embraced the jerseys Nike unveiled Tuesday.

But, from his standpoint, Goodell is open to change.

"There's always a balance between innovation and tradition, and I think you'll see that in the NFL. Some teams will lean toward the tradition," Goodell said. "...Some teams will want to push the envelope a little bit, from a look standpoint, and that's fine. We want them to do that along with fans."

Goodell said there's no requirement for uniformity in the uniforms.

"The only uniformity we want is how the uniform is worn, not in the look," he said. "We think part of being professional as a league is having a uniform code. We get some criticism for that, but it's a part of looking professional."

For the most part, the uniforms aren't dramatically different, except for the Seattle Seahawks. But made that decision, not the NFL or Nike.

"It's based on individual owners, and the NFL does have guidelines on how much you can change," said Todd Van Horne, the creative director of football for Nike. "But, for us, we have a tremendous respect for each team's heritage and culture, so we wanted to honor that, and bring the performance and innovation to them."

Asked about coming changes, Van Horne said, "The playing field is wide open."

For now, teams will have a home and an away jersey, as well as a "historical look," according to Van Horne. Beyond that, nothing else has been firmed up.

"It's exciting what they're thinking about," Van Horne said.

One player who would welcome a change to his team's jersey is Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

"Overall, it's better," Finley said of the quality of the jersey and fit. "But you know Green Bay. They stay simple and do what they want."

Asked if he the Packers might be open to change, Finley said, "I would think so."

Finley was a fan of the Seahawks jersey.

"That's the best jersey Nike put out," he said.

Finley, who has a deal with Nike, insisted the look and feel are important for players.

"You feel good," he said, "you play good."

A year ago, when the NFL moved the kickoff yardage line from the 30 to 35, the Bears were among six teams to vote against the decision.

But Bears chairman George McCaskey said he was encouraged by the statistics revealed at the NFL owners meeting last week in Palm Beach, Fla.

"They said it was for player safety," McCaskey said last week, "and we didn't necessarily see a direct connection."

According to a league spokesman, concussions were reduced more than 40 percent on kickoffs. That decrease, in part, can be attributed to fewer returned kickoffs.

In 2010, there were 416 touchbacks, with Baltimore's Billy Cundiff leading the league with 40 of them. But, in 2011, there were 1,120 touchbacks, and 11 players had more than 40 of them.

That, of course, affected the Bears more than most clubs. They still ranked fifth in the NFL with an average starting kickoff point at the 23.6-yard line. But that was nearly eight full yards fewer than in 2010.

McCaskey said they didn't bring up the notion of moving the kickoff yardage line back to the 30.

"We still have the most prolific kick returner in the history of the game," McCaskey said, referring to Devin Hester, "but we're in favor of player health and safety."

Recently, the NCAA announced that they would follow the NFL's lead and move the kick off starting point to the 35.

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