Chicago Sun-Times

May 2012 Archives

Though he has been well-recognized as one of the best long-snappers in the NFL, Pat Mannelly has spent his entire 14-year career with the Bears where he likes it -- in the shadows and out of the spotlight.

Even when he suffered a torn left ACL against the Chargers that ended his 2011 season and snapped his franchise-record streak of 147 consecutive games played, his misfortune was relegated to a glorified footnote when news of Jay Cutler's broken thumb spread like wildfire about an hour after the game.

But Mannelly, who's still in his prime at 37, is back for his 15th season. And while he's still rehabbing his knee, he expects to be ready for training camp in July.

''Everything's going as planned,'' Mannelly said. ''Bobby Slater's doing a heckuva job getting me here. Still on track to be ready for training camp -- that's my goal.''

Bears Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will both take part in a special autograph signing June 1 in Barrington.

The players will be at the Lake Barrington Field House from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. But to get an autograph, a ticket must be purchased in advance.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Bridget Kennicott, a seven-year-old Barrington girl who suffers from the rare Batten Disease.

Limited tickets remain, and they can be purchased at

Agent Adisa Bakari took an exception to a report that the Bears are concerned about how Matt Forte's knees will hold up, as they try to sign the Pro Bowl running back to a long-term deal.

"Matt Forte is among the most, if not the most, durable, all-purpose running back in the NFL,"Bakari said. "The 2011 season was the first season of his career that he missed any games. Had the Bears been play-off contenders, he could have returned for the balance of the season. To question his durability at this stage in his career is absurd."

In addition, Forte posted a video of himself running up a hill with 100 pounds strapped to him.

Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox was in good spirits at the Bears' offseason practice at Halas Hall on Wednesday, but still a long way from participating in practice and an even longer way from playing in a game.

Still rehabilitating from surgery to stabilize a vertabra in his back after suffering a horrific injury against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 18, a clearly underweight Knox acknowledged the possibility he might miss part or all of the 2012 season.

''It could happen, but I'm staying optimistic,'' said Knox, who was second in the NFL with 19.6 yards per catch last season, when he had 37 receptions for a team-leading 727 yards and two touchdowns. ''My main focus is in the weight room. I'm not in a rush. This is my spine, the core of my body I'm dealing with. It's not my knee or ankle or shoulder. I'm taking my time.''

Quarterback Jay Cutler completed ''several'' passes to Brandon Marshall against the first-team defense as the Bears opened their on-field preparation for the 2012 season with ''spirited'' 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work at their opening offseason practice Tuesday at Halas Hall.

The practice was closed to the media and public, but Larry Mayer of the team's web site,, reported that the anticipated Cutler-Marshall connection didn't disappoint. Cutler didn't waste time establishing a fruitful connection with Marshall for the first time since the 2009 Pro Bowl.

''It was a little give and take today,'' Marshall told the Bears web site. ''It was good to see the defense make some plays and we also made some plays. We're excited about where we're at right now, but we have a lot of work to get done before the opener [Sept. 9 vs. the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field].

''I'm not where I want to be and I'm sure as a team we have a lot of room to grow and get better. It feels good, but at the same time, we've got to keep our head down, foot on the pedal and just continue to grind.''

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall surely scored points with a national audience after sparring with hosts Skip Bayless and Stephen Smith on ESPN's ''First Take'' last Friday. If you had told me one of the three was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Marshall would have been my third choice.

Marshall fought a losing battle with Bayless trying to defend LeBron James after the three-time NBA Most Valuable Player came up short again in crunch time in Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. But he held his own against Smith, who challenged the notion that Marshall's offseason work with Jay Cutler will pay big dividends this season.

''I think we'll have a chance to win the Super Bowl,'' Marshall said, when asked by Bayless how good the Bears can be in 2012. ''It's a quarterback driven league. And I'm putting a lot of it on Jay. Three years ago, Jay was a great quarterback. The thing that separates him from then is his leadership. He led us then. But now it's just amazing.''

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall will not face criminal charges in connection with a nightclub incident in New York City in March, his attorney told NFL Network.

Marshall was accused of punching a woman outside the Manhattan nightclub. But his attorney, Harvey Steinberg, told NFL Network's Michelle Beisner the case was closed.

Marshall had maintained his innocence since the incident, which occurred just before the Miami Dolphins traded him to the Bears for two third-round draft picks.

The Bears this morning completed a four-year contract with safety Brandon Hardin, which means the 2012 draft class is completely signed.

Hardin's deal is worth $2.7 million, according to a league source.

The Bears have historically been one of the more aggressive clubs in signing draft picks. Hardin's deal was a bit more complicated because clubs and agents were at odds on several key issues in the third round.

The 79th overall pick, Hardin played at Oregon State. He's 6-2, 222 pounds, and he started of 38 games played for the Beavers (2007-11), registering 105 tackles (73 solo), three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, one interception and seven passes defended.

He missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury.

Hardin is an imposing athlete, and he'll make an immediate impression on special teams. The team, though, is hoping he can develop as a strong safety. It'll take time, though, since he mostly played cornerback in college.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler acknowledged how polarizing concussions are right now.

"It's a tough subject, it's a touchy subject, I think you have to be careful what you say and don't say. Some guys are totally on one side of the and other guys are on the other side of the fence," he said. "You know, I signed up to play football. I understand that. I understand you're going to take hits, you're going to get beat up."

But Cutler said the NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have been "trying to take every measure possible to protect players." He noted, for instance, that helmets have improved since he entered the league in 2006.

"At the end of the day, it's a tough sport. You're going to take shots in the head, and you're going to get concussions from time to time," Cutler said. "But no one made me play football. Not one put a gun to my head and said, 'You have to play football.' It's what I love to do. And I knew the risks and benefits going into it."

Cutler also backed Goodell for his handling of the New Orleans Saints. After an investigation, Goodell handed down heavy fines and suspensions to Saints players and coaches involved in a bounty program.

"As players, we all know that there's the possibility for injuries," Cutler said. "But I think they crossed that line, of going past that point and encouraging it to happen. And whenever you're telling people to take headshots and take people out, things are going to come down on you."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is thrilled about the additions to the offense this offseason, But count him among those who has a wait and see approach with the offensive line.

Asked about the excitement about the Bears heading into 2012, Cutler said, "You know, the offensive line is definitely going to be a concern and seeing where those guys are going to fit in and seeing what five we go with.

"If Gabe [Carimi] comes back, if J'Marcus [Webb] pans out. Where are we going to put Chris Williams? There are some question marks there. Until we really get that resolved, and get our front five settled in, we've got some work to do on offense."

He was then asked if the new offense would help the offensive line.

"It helps some. But it's not a cure all, by any means," Cutler said. "They're still going to be asked to protect. There are going to be times it's 3rd and 8, 3rd and 10, and we're going to have to take seven step drops and we're going to have the longer route and they're going to have to protect.

"It's definitely going to help them, moving the pocket, getting rid of the ball quick. They're not going to be under the stress - game in and game out - they were last year. But on the flip side of that, there are going to be times they've got to do their jobs."

Bears receiver Devin Hester continues to get overwhelming support at Halas Hall.

The latest person to heap praise on him is receivers coach Darryl Drake, who made clear the veteran isn't at all insecure about the addition of Alshon Jeffery.

"I promise you Devin is not reading press clippings about Alshon Jeffery, but I bet Alshon Jeffery is reading press clippings about Devin Hester. Devin Hester don't give a crap," Drake said. "He just want to go out there and play.

"And let me tell you something about Devin Hester, you got to know how I feel about him: All we've got to do is use him. That's all we have to do, and you'll see what kind of player he is, period."

Lance Briggs hosts free football camp in Chicago

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Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs attended some football camps as a kid, although no one of his stature ever showed up to one.

Briggs, who hosts football camps in Chicago and around Sacramento, where he's from, believes it's natural for him to help young players.

"This is what I'm best at. Football is what us professionals are best at, so I think one of the best ways we can give back is to teach the art that we have mastered," Briggs said. "Chicago, obviously, is a very important place for me. It's been home for the past 10 years."

Briggs said it was important to host a free camp, which was at Hales Franciscan.

"They can get the same type of teaching and coaching at a very affordable price," he said.

Students participated in drills, went through an obstacle courses while parents learned about fitness and nutrition, the recruiting process and standardized tests.

For lunch, chef Jason Ellis, who appeared on the show Hell's Kitchen, made barbecue for the students and parents.

Kudos to Briggs for showing up bright and early, and immediately posing with a lot of young players.

Gabe Carimi expects to be back for mini camp

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Bears second-year offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said he expects to be ready before the team's veteran mini camp in a month.

"I'm feeling really good. They're saying another couple of weeks, and I'll be here for OTAs and mini camps," Carimi said Saturday night from the Bears Care Gala. "I'm just chomping at the bit to get back, and actually be back with the o-line and not on the outside looking in."

Carimi suffered a knee injury in Week 2, and he had ups and downs before being placed on injured reserve and undergoing surgery.

The Bears had been careful about his return, but coach Lovie Smith had been offering some encouraging comments over the last couple months.

"The training staff of the Bears are doing a great job. I'm going to be back very soon, so we're all very excited to get me back on the field," Carimi said.

Carimi is expected to return to his role last season, as the starting right tackle.

It may seem puzzling to some of you, that the Bears have completed deals for all of their draft picks except for one.

Particularly since first-rounder Shea McClellin signed his four-year deal Friday.

The lone wolf for the Bears is safety Brandon Hardin, the third-round pick.

So what's the deal?

I'm told contracts in rounds four through seven are no-brainers, and we've already seen a bunch completed in the first- and second-round. Teams and agents are given the minimum and maximum first-year cap numbers, and they calculate the rest of the deal around that.

But only a couple (perhaps only two) third-round deals have been done because teams have different approaches on how to reach that number.

Some teams maxed out the 25 percent in years two through four, while other clubs offered smaller additional compensation, such as workout bonuses. Some teams even offered minimum salaries for years two to four.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery isn't thinking about the past, particularly that some projected him as a first-round pick before the 2011 college football season.

"I'm just here to win games for the Bears, and hopefully we can bring a championship here. That's all I'm here to do," he said. "What happened in college, I'm past that. I'm just here, focused on the Bears."

The focus the first two days has been on the second-round pick's left calf, which cramped up with about 30 minutes left in Friday's practice. He participated in Saturday's session, without incident, but he didn't look completely comfortable.

"Yeah, that's it. That's all I had. I just caught a cramp," Jeffrey said.

Asked if it's a common injury for him, he said, "Nah, it's nothing common."

Perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs considers himself among the lucky ones.

"I love the game so much that I've kept playing every year, and every year after. I was fortunate to play in college, and fortunate enough even more to get drafted and play in the NFL, and enjoy my NFL career," Briggs said. "I've been lucky, I guess -- or whatever you want to say -- that I haven't been in a position like Dan Morgan or different guys, who have had concussions that have forced them out of the league.

"Especially, in 2012, you have to know this is part of the sport you're entering. You want to love it, love it, and all that good stuff, and all that it brings. But there are dangers to it."

Speaking at Hales Franciscan, where over 150 8th to 12th graders participated in a free football camp he hosted, Briggs said concussions are inevitable. Last week, Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White created a stir, with some comments on his Twitter account.

Bears coach Lovie Smith and general manager Phil Emery have defended the team's offensive line throughout the offseason.

During the NFL Draft, the Bears had an opportunity to land highly-rated o-linemen, yet they passed and addressed other positions.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said they would have address offensive tackle, if they collectively thought it were a problem.

"I think if Phil and Lovie -- with the help of the scouts and the staff -- if we felt tackle were a dire need for us, I'm sure they would have answered the bell on draft day," Tice said. "With the change in scheme, and the change in personality - if you will - and an offseason, and getting some guys healthy, I think we'll make a big jump in the offensive line.

Bears rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery looked good in drills at the Bears' rookie mini-camp Friday at Halas Hall. But he left the practice early because of cramps.

''Guys do a lot of working out on their own, but it's not like when you come here and work out,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''I really like what Alshon did earlier in practice, most of the practice, really. I didn't see him drop a ball. He's got great hands. Big target. I really like the way he came in. He's going to be a good football player for us.''

The Bears hope the 6-3, 216-pound Jeffery can help give them the big receiver they've been lacking. They also traded for 6-4 Brandon Marshall.

''With Brandon Marshall and Alshon we've gotten bigger,'' Smith said. ''Most of the defensive backs are under 6-feet. So hopefully [that] will be an advantage focus. It's just more than size. These guys can move and know how to get the ball in the end zone.''

Shea McClellin seemed happy to get back on the field after a whirlwind two weeks since the Bears made him the 19th overall pick of the NFL draft.

''I had to change my [cell phone] number because of all the calls and a lot of people that I didn't want calling me were calling me,'' McClellin said after his first practice of the Bears' rookie mini-camp at Halas Hall. ''Other than that, it's been all right.''

McClellin signed a four-year, $8.2 million contract, with $7.5 million guaranteed, before practice Friday. He said he stayed out of the negotiations and trusted his agents to get the deal done.

''It's good to get it out of the way,'' he said. ''My agents did a great job of getting it done before camp starts.''

Bears sign first-round draft pick Shea McClellin

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The Bears have signed first-round draft pick Shea McClellin to a four-year contract, the team announced Friday. The deal is worth $8.2 million, with $4.4 million guaranteed, according to a league source.

McClellin, a 6-3, 260-pound defensive end from Boise State, was the 19th overall pick in the NFL draft last month. He will wear jersey No. 99, the same as Hall of Famer Dan Hampton and Tank Johnson.

The Bears have signed five of their six draft picks. The only unsigned draftee is third-round pick Brandon Hardin, a safety from Oregon State.

The Bears opened their rookie mini-camp Friday at Halas Hall. All the drafted players are participating, plus undrafted free agents and tryout players. The mini-camp concludes Sunday.

The Bears also announced the signing of three veteran free agents to one-year contracts: defensive tackles John McCargo and DeMario Pressley and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu and

The Bears have agreed to terms on rookie contracts with fourth-round draft pick Evan Rodriguez and seventh-round pick Greg McCoy. They have now come to terms with three of their six draft picks. Second-round pick Alshon Jeffery, the wide receiver out of South Carolina, signed last week.

Rodriguez is a 6-2, 239-pound tight end out of Temple. McCoy is a 5-10, 178-pound kick returner/cornerback out of TCU.

The three unsigned draft picks are first-round pick Shea McClellin, the defensive end out of Boise State; third-round pick Brandon Hardin, the safety out of Oregon State; and sixth-round pick Isaiah Frey, the cornerback out of Nevada.

The Bears will hold their rookie mini-camp Friday through Sunday at Halas Hall. It is not open to the public.

The Bears have agreed to terms with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, their second-round draft pick, on a four-year contract, the team announced Wednesday.

The 6-3, 216-pound Jeffery was the 45th overall pick in the draft. He had 49 receptions for 762 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior at South Carolina in 2011. As a sophomore he set school records with 88 receptions for 1,517 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and caught nine touchdown passes.

The Bears traded their fifth-round pick (150th overall) to the Rams to move from 50th to 45th in the second round to get Jeffery, leap-frogging the Seattle Seahawks (47th) in the process. After Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, whom he recruited as coach at USC, in the first-round, there was speculation he would target the highly touted Jeffery, who had committed to USC and Carroll while in high school before changing his mind and signing with South Carolina in 2009.

Bears could have a sleeper in OT/G James Brown

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The Bears raised a few eyebrows, especially among skeptics, when they did not take an offensive lineman in the draft last week.

But for what it's worth, it was a top priority after the draft. The Bears signed Troy's James Brown, a 6-3 1/2, 306-pound offensive tackle who was considered a third- or fourth-round pick but went undrafted, apparently because he didn't convince NFL scouts he could make the transition to guard.

The Bears are betting low stakes that he can. Brown was the highest-rated player on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr.'s draft board. Kiper had Brown rated as the 54th best player overall. Last year, the Bears also signed the top undrafted player on Kiper's board -- wide receiver Dan Sanzenbacher, who led all Bears wide receivers in touchdown receptions as a rookie in 2011 (three).

''I think people were leery -- at 6-3 1/2 at left tackle, there aren't many of those out there,'' Kiper said. ''And then you have to move him to guard and he didn't test out well athletically at the [scouting] combine. He had only 25 1/2-inch vertical.''

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