Chicago Sun-Times

June 2012 Archives

Lance Briggs starts a "New Era"

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Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs couldn't think of a more natural partnership than the one he signed last year with New Era.

Hats have always been a part of his wardrobe.

"I have a steady number of hats," Briggs said Tuesday. "I wear hats to match my outfits."

New Era has become the exclusive and official headwear supplier for the NFL, and players will be wearing them on sidelines next season.

Briggs, who is real particular about his hats, couldn't be more thrilled.

"Nothing against [Reebok]; I love Reebok gear," he said. "But, its kind of golf hatty. They were cool hats. But its just that New Era hats are cooler."
Bears New Era.jpg

Lance Briggs has had a nice offseason since he got his reworked contract completed in April.

"It's been a big release of stress," said Briggs, who conducted interviews to promote his new partnership with New Era hats. "There are some things that you worry about, when you think about the past. You think there's going to be a big fight again. Thinking about traded or released. So, you hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

"So getting the deal done as fast as it got done, I'm just thankful."

Briggs, who has been embroiled in contract disagreements with the Bears in the past, empathizes with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

"It doesn't matter if I got my deal. Matt deserves to get paid," Briggs said. "Matt's one of the players that they're going to get everything they can out of him. He's going to give it his all.

"Matt has to do what's best for Matt Forte, and what he believes is best for him. It's not for me or anyone else to say but him. But I'm sure he'll make the right decision."

Bears running back Matt Forte is still holding out hope that his agent and the Bears can strike a long-term deal. But, he acknowledged to Sun-Times colleague Joe Cowley that the process has left some "scars."

"That's what happens when you get into the business side of sports," he said. "There's an easy way to get over those scars, but we'll see. Everyone looks at it and says, 'Oh, it's only about money. It's not only about money.' It's about you going out there and putting your heart and soul on the field, being respected for what you do, and then being rewarded for it."

The difference, of course, is how he and the team believe is a fair "reward."

The deadline for coming up with a long-term deal is July 16. If the two sides can't consummate a long-term deal, then Forte's only option is a one-year franchise tender worth $7.7 million.

For now, the two sides are still talking.

"That's a good thing, and we'll continue to talk," Forte said. "So that's good news that we're still talking. That's about it."

Here is the full text of Cowley's report.

The Bears quarterback will celebrate the launch of the Jay Cutler Show this fall on ESPN Chicago at a benefit for his foundation July 12 at Bevy.

Cutler's fiance, Kristin Cavallari, will also be in attendance, along with other celebrities.

Cutler will do the show with co-hosts Tom Waddle and Marc "Silvy" Silverman.

The benefit at Bevy will be from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. and will be for those 21 and over.

VIP tables are available and will include one autographed Cutler football and a bottle of champagne.

The Jay Cutler Foundation is a charitable organization benefiting children with diabetes.

For more information, click here

Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman was matched up against Brandon Marshall twice during a goalline passing drill Thursday. Both times, he intercepted quarterback Jay Cutler.

Tillman made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season.

"I just know that I've seen him go through a lot of different phases with his career," coach Lovie Smith said earlier in the week when asked if Tillman was improving heading into his 10th season. "But it seems like he's picking up steam here lately. Some of the same things he did early on --- he's always been able to strip the football as well as anybody I've seen in the league ... Then just his other skills as a defensive back. There aren't a lot of corners like him with his type of size and ability. So we're expecting him to have another career year and I think he'll say the same."

Next stop, Bourbonnais

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The offseason had ended, at least as far as Bears players and coaches working out together is concerned. The next time we'll see these Bears is during training camp in Bourbonnais.

"We have seen some good football teams around here," coach Lovie Smith said. "Last year's team was pretty good when we were 7-3 before the injuries hit us. We have added some more good football players to that core, so we're feeling pretty good about our group. I can't wait to get down to training camp."

Not only have the Bears added more front-line weapons such as receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush, but they appear deeper than ever.

"I'd say we're a better football team, I'm talking about the 53-man roster; even the 61-man roster with the practice squad," Smith said. "We have some pretty good training camp battles, too, going on. I feel like we have an idea of what direction we're going in."

It's impossible to evaluate offensive linemen during the offseason. That will be the most critical position to watch when players report to training camp.

"To be quite frank with you, you're not going to tell anything about your offensive line until they put pads on," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "To sit there and say, 'Oh, yeah, this guy, he's going to be the answer to the problems,' that would be silly. So we just want to make sure that they're assignment-sound, technique-sound, working their hands.

"One of the areas that we wanted to improve across the board was our hands, using our hands better, keeping the players away from us. We know we have guys that can run, so that's going to help our running game. That's really all we can look at right now."

The Bears waived quarterback Nathan Enderle.

Enderle was selected by the Bears in the fifth round (160th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft on the recommendation of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz. He was on the active roster during the 2011 regular season but did not appear in a game.

The Chicago Bears have terminated the contract of vested veteran G Mansfield Wrotto. Wrotto appeared in 27 games with 12 starts over three seasons (2008-10) with the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.

We'll find out more about first-round pick Shea McClellin when training camp starts, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes what he's seen so far.

"He's got really good movement," Marinelli said. "He's got really good speed. He's got nice range. His size is fine. He's a real hungry guy and he's very smart. I know he's tough. Now we'll get the pads on him. That determines everything but I believe he'll come out and do a very nice job. But the movement, all the things you look for, it's there."

The addition of returner Eric Weems doesn't mean the newcomer has leapfrogged Devin Hester on the depth chart.

"He's still our No. 1 kickoff returner," the Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub said of Hester after the team's minicamp practice Wednesday. "When we need a big one Devin is going to be in there. We have the luxury of having Eric Weems. There will be times when we have them both back there. We'll kind of trick people in terms of who's getting the ball. We'll move one guy up there late. We'll also try to kick it away from Devin and get the ball to Weems at times. Then there will be times when just Weems is back there with a fullback.

"He's definitely a luxury for us. It's a luxury, I mean, this guy can take it to the house. He went to the Pro Bowl before. We're fortunate to have him."

Toub said Hester and Weems have proven to be big-play returners using different means.

"Hester is more of an outside guy," he said. "He wants to make people miss and get outside. Weems is a north and south, physical-type returner. He's not going to break a lot of tackles but he fits our scheme really well. We try to block people and have a point of attack. He's going to be able to hit that thing exactly where we want it. We're excited about Eric Weems."

Weems and fellow special teams standout Blake Costanzo were the free-agent special teamers Toub coveted most this offseason. The Bears signed them both. Toub didn't want Weems so much for his returning ability but thought he could help fill the void left when coverage ace Corey Graham departed.

"He's a good returner but he's here because he's a good cover guy, he's a number one gunner," Toub said.

It was no surprise that unsigned running back Matt Forte did not attend the first day of the Bears' mini-camp Tuesday at Halas Hall. The mini-camp is mandatory only for players under contract, and Forte has yet to sign the $7.7 million offer as the Bears' ''franchise'' player.

Bears coach Lovie Smith was particularly circumspect when asked about Forte after practice Tuesday.

''I can't speculate on that,'' Smith said. ''I'm having a blast coaching the guys who are here right now. It doesn't do any good to speculate on things like that.''

The opened their offeason mini-camp Tuesday at Halas Hall without Brian Urlacher, who still is recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of the 2011 season finale against the Vikings.

Urlacher suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament and partially sprained posterior cruciate ligament in the victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome. At the time it was reported he would require 10 weeks of rehabilitation without surgery. He attended Tuesday's practice but did not participate. But coach Lovie Smith said the 34-year-old Urlacher will be ''good to go'' for training camp, which begins July 26 in Bourbonnais.

''It's not a lot to explain. He's not ready to go yet,'' Smith said after Tuesday's practice. ''He's on pace. Our plan was to take it slow with him.

''We know what Brian can do. It's not like he's going to tell us an awful lot out here. He's right on pace [and] he should be able to get a good rest of his offseason in and be good to go for training camp.''

It's only mini-camp.

The biggest danger facing the Bears heading into the 2012 season could be high expectations. With Jay Cutler's comfort level at a record-high, Brandon Marshall the best receiver the Bears have had since Harlon Hill and Mike Tice replacing Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, the enthusiasm could quickly become overwhelming -- and it's only June.

Cutler, not prone to overstating anything, added to the momentumafter Day 1 of the Bears' mini-camp Tuesday at Halas Hall, calling Marshall, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester & Co. ''the best receiver group I've worked with.''

''It's kind of surprising to see where we're at and how well the guys ave picked
it up,'' Cutler said. ''It's a testament to how hard they have worked. There are a lot of fun guys. It's a good group. It's the best receiver group
I've worked with. A lot of guys on this team like coming to work and like
football so that makes my job a lot easier.''

Matt Forte's absence from Tuesday's mandatory minicamp didn't surprise anybody. The running back is not under contract and therefore will not be fined for his absence, which is his way of reminding Bears general manager Phil Emery that he feels he deserves a lucrative long-term contract extension.

"It's not an issue for me and it can't be," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "During the course of the year you have guys who aren't here for whatever reason. You coach the guys who can go, who can practice. We've been spending all our time with that.

"I know Matt Forte. I'm sure he's getting ready to go. But, in the meantime, the best thing we can do for the Chicago Bears is just keep this train going, which we've done."

Michael Bush took snaps with the first team in Forte's absence. It is hoped the recently acquired free-agent running back can be the physical runner the Bears have lacked in recent years.

"It's really helping him," Jay Cutler said of Bush getting more work. "He's such a pro. He does things the right way. He comes ready to work. He's a smart guy. He picks up the system quickly. Whenever we get Matt in here he's going to add a different dimension to this offense but right now Mike's doing a great job for us."

The Bears have been focusing on their passing game during minicamp because it's virtually impossible to practice running plays without contact. Still, offensive coordinator Mike Tice likes what he sees from his running backs.

"We love Michael," Tice said. "He's a really good back. You need to have two good backs, and we have two good backs. Of course, we love Matt, and we're excited about having Mike, and we like [Armando Allen], too. We're excited about our blend back there. We think they all complement each other, and they're all going to be able to find their niche and make big plays for us."

Brian Urlacher was among a handful of players who worked out on the side during Tuesday's minicamp. The veteran linebacker is recovering from a knee injury in the season finale against the Vikings.

"He's not ready to go yet," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's on pace. Our plan was to take it slow with him. We know what Brian can do; it's not like he's going to tell us an awful lot out here. He's right on pace [and] he should be able to get a good rest of his offseason in and be good to go for training camp."

Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery did not participate Tuesday because of what Smith called a "lower leg injury."

"Hopefully he'll be able to do something before this minicamp is over," Smith said.

Lance Briggs, who understands Matt Forte's frustration better than most on the Bears, said the disgruntled running back should ''do what you believe'' in his standoff with the team over a long-term contract.

''Because no one knows you like you,'' Briggs said. ''And no one's going to take care of you like you.''

Unhappy with the one-year offer of $7.7 million for 2012 as the Bears' ''franchise'' player, Forte is not participating in the Bears' offseason program. It's all voluntary so far. But next week's three-day mini-camp is mandatory, which means Forte will be subject to fines if he holds out.

CB Tim Jennings responding to Bears' challenge

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Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is used to fighting for his job, but he'll have to fight a little bit harder to keep it this season.

Jennings has been productive in two seasons with the Bears -- beating out Zack Bowman in 2010 and winning the job in training camp in 2011. He is Lovie Smith's kind of tackler and has recovery speed to make up for most of his mistakes. But he struggled late in the season when the Bears needed the defense to carry the team after Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb -- Bowman started in Week 16 against the Packers. And Jennings' inability to capitalize on interception opportunities (he has three picks in two seasons) only made him more of a target for an upgrade for 2012.

It's still Jennings' job to win, but he'll have to beat out more than Bowman this time. The Bears added veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite in the offseason and drafted two other cornerbacks who probably will be special-teams players but can't be counted out: Isaiah Frey of Nevada in the sixth round and Greg McCoy of Texas Christian in the seventh.

The Bears will open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais on July 26 -- the first of 16 practices open to the public in preparation for the 2012 season.

This is the 11th consecutive season the Bears are training at Olivet Nazarene. The schedule includes one practice at Soldier Field, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3. The Bears' first preseason game is Thurs., Aug. 9 against the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field.

Here is the schedule of Bears practices open to the public (all times and dates are tentative and subject to change. Check the Bears' web site, chicagobears.com, for updated information.):

Shea McClellin enjoying "smooth transition"

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Bears first-round pick Shea McClellin doesn't really have any complaints thus far.

"It's been a pretty smooth transition," he said. "I'm just trying to get better every day and improve."

That's not too hard when Rod Marinelli is his position coach and coordinator, and he's surrounded by Pro Bowl defenders like Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, as well as veterans like Israel Idonije.

"It's exciting to practice with great players," he said. "And Rod has been great. Everyone has told me that he's the best coaches in the business. So it's exciting too learn from him, and pick his brain a little bit, and listen to him."

McClellin is also transitioning off the field. He's partnered with Allstate Life Insurance and "Give Your Sole" for a program designed to solicit used athletic shoes for the Chicago area homeless.

"The good thing about it is, if you can't make it, or a prior obligation, Allstate is collecting donations through Fleet Feet Sports stores," McClellin said. "I'm excited to be a part of a great program that gives back to the community."

McClellin will join Allstate 13.1 Marathon Series stop in Chicago this Saturday.

Bears help at Chicago 1st Responders Bowl

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A year ago, the Chicago firefighters headed into the annual 1st Responders Memorial Bowl undefeated.

But they squandered a huge halftime lead against the Chicago police, and they lost in overtime.

"Greg Olsen was our honorary," Chicago Fire Department Blaze president Rory Ohse said. "He was great, but he was asking the coaches to throw to the tight ends too much."

The Chicago police went on to win the Division II National title.

This year's game is Sunday at Brother Rice High School at 1 p.m., and the Blaze have a more experienced sideline presence: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

"I'm excited about it. I know these guys take this game very seriously so it should be a lot of fun," Tie said. "There will be some talent out there and it's a fierce rivalry on the field so I'm looking forward to seeing them mix it up a little bit."

The Blaze have high expectations of Tice.

"He's our secret weapon," Ohse said. "He's going to pull out the plays he used for Randy Moss and for Brandon Marshall."

Marshall and Brian Urlacher are also expected to be at the game, with proceeds from the game benefitting the police and fire charities.

The roles for the two teams are reversed heading into the game. The police are undefeated. A victory ensures them an opportunity to play for the Division I National title.

"Our role this year is as the spoiler," Ohse said.

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