Chicago Sun-Times

July 2012 Archives

Bears Tuesday training camp practice report

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After a day off Monday, the refreshed Bears had another eventful practice on a hot, muggy afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

Generally, you have to take their word for it when they say they're making progress. But it's a little easier to see with the naked eye this season. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake called it the most competitive camp he's seen in his nine years with the Bears. Charles Tillman vs. Brandon Marshall alone is all the proof he needs.

The defense continued to make strides since getting dominated Friday in the first practice with pads. Tillman and Tim Jennings each intercepted Jay Cutler in the 11-on-11 drill as the offense struggled as much as it has in camp. He did make his share of good plays, including a perfect touch pass to Matt Forte on a wheel route for a 25-yard gain.

Jay Cutler praises Mike Tice for open-mindedness

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said new offensive coordinator Mike Tice listens to him and other players.

"I have a little bit of input. Not much," Cutler said. "I've got a few things that I whisper in [Tice's] ear and he's always receptive of it.

"At the end of the day we're going to do what's best offensively for us. No matter if a rookie has the idea, if Mike has the idea, or Jeremy or me. Whatever is going to work against a given defense, we're going to use it."

That was one of the criticisms of Tice's predecessor, that he ran his offense "just so," including when the inexperienced Caleb Hanie took over as the starter.

But on Tuesday, Cutler acknowledged that Tice has "one of the toughest jobs on the field."

"Being able to take everyone's input and different ideas and being able to dissect it and figure out what the best is for this offensive football team," Cutler said. "We've got a lot of bright minds out here. A lot of guys that have been in a lot of football games. He's doing a great job. I think he's accepting that role and really relishing in it."

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 6

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The Bears' second practice in pads Sunday in Bourbonnais was uneventful compared to the spirited opening practice in pads before an estimated crowd of more than 12,000 fans Saturday night. Henry Melton shagging punts was a highlight -- it was that kind of day. But no one was hurt, as far as we know, which at this point makes any practice a success.

Here's a capsule look at Day 6 of Bears training camp:

1. Defense steps it up.

After Brandon Marshall and other receivers got the better of them on Saturday night, the Bears' defense seemed to step it up Sunday. Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden were among those making plays. Hayden's coverage on Marshall was so good on one play that Jay Cutler didn't even try to throw to him.

Bears Sunday practice report

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--It was Chris Williams' turn to work with the first unit on Sunday, as the battle for left tackle between he and J'Marcus Webb continued to play out. While Webb clearly won Round 1 on Saturday night, both looked good in the one-on-one drills, as well as seven-on-sevens. Then again, Julius Peppers was given a light workload on Sunday, so it wasn't like either was pushed.

--First-round pick Shea McClellin struggled at defensive end, and not just against the likes of Williams, Webb and Gabe Carimi. He was getting worked by the likes of second-teamer James Brown and third-teamer Tyler Hendrickson.

''I like everything he's done,'' coach Lovie Smith said of McClellin. ''He's done everything we've asked him to do. As a defensive lineman playing in the league, there's a lot for him to learn. First off, just being a physical player on the tight end. But he's going to earn his money based n what he does rushing the passer. He's got a long ways to go.''

Israel Idonije is treating 2012 as just another season in the NFL, but he has to know it's more than that. He's 31, coming off a down year with five sacks and the 19th pick in the draft, Shea McClellin, is among the competitors for his playing time. Last year it was free agent Nick Reed after Corey Wootton was injured early in camp.

''Last year was a rough year for me,'' said Idonije, who still had nine tackles-for-loss and a fumble recover for a touchdown last season. ''I had a lot going on. I was a little banged up. But I was fortunate that I played the season out and I'm fortunate to be back for another year. This year it's really about putting it all together (in) my third year as a starter, and taking that next step.''

When the Bears drafted McClellin in the first round in April, it was clear that Idonije's position was targeted for an upgrade. ''My mindset hasn't changed at all,'' Idonije said. ''My focus every year is to get better, to be the best I can be.

''Every year I've been here, they've brought in guys. So mindset is the same. Last year, the year before, every year, I continue to work to get better.''

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 5

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With a crowd estimated at more than 12,000 enjoying a spirited Bears practice highlighted by several big pass plays from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall and others from Jason Campbell to Dane Sanzenbacher and even Matt Blanchard to Evan Rodriguez, even veteran observers are getting the impression we've been missing out on something all these years -- like an offense that actually entertains instead of just giving the Bears' defense a chance to rest.

Coach Lovie Smith said the nice weather and the fact that it was a weekend night brought out the big crowd. But the truth is that before Brandon Marshall got here, there were many other better things to do on a sultry Saturday night in the Chicago area than watch a Bears training camp practice.

There's more than a curiosity factor at play here. There's the anticipation/expectation factor -- with Cutler and Marshall the Bears have a chance to be as good as they've been since the early Ditka era. And there's an entertainment factor. If they charged admission, Marshall vs. Charles Tillman in practice would be worth the price of admission. There's actually something worth watching at practice regardless of what it projects for the regular season.

Here's a capsule look at the Bears third training camp practice Saturday night, their first in pads:

1. Brandon Marshall is good.

Marshall gave the fans -- and Smith -- a brief scare when he couldn't get up after falling during a casual (no defense) passing drill early in practice. But he quickly recovered and put on a show, though what to us is ''a show'' is probably another day at the office for Marshall.

It was only the first day in pads, but Marshall made several impressive catches, including two deep balls vs. Tillman along the left sideline. On the second one, it seemed like Cutler just threw the ball up knowing Marshall would get it. It was 50 yards or more in the air and under thrown, but Marshall adjusted to the ball and made the catch. He later made a reaching one-handed grab on a shorter throw from Cutler.

This is probably ho-hum at the Lions or Texans or Cardinals practices. But it's a revelation here. Regardless, it's fun to watch.

Left Tackle Update: J'Marcus Webb has solid day

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At least in practice No. 1 in pads, J'Marcus Webb can sleep soundly Saturday night.

In seven-on-seven running plays, Webb was physical up front and even getting to the second level, twice putting solid hits on linebacker Nick Roach.

Not a big surprise there because Mike Tice has indicated that both Webb and Chris Williams can show flashes of dominance in run blocking. But where Webb stood out was pass blocking, seeing a whole lot of Julius Peppers. Either Peppers was uninterested in going all out or maybe Webb has taken strides, because the offensive tackle held up well.
As for Williams, he appeared to be beaten twice by rookie Shea McClellin in one-on-one drills.

For one evening, at least, Webb seemed to be the winner.

Bears Saturday night practice report

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A crowd estimated at 12,000 watched the Bears' first practice in pads Saturday night at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais. And after a momentary scare early when Brandon Marshall appeared to suffer a leg injury in a passing drill, the enthusiastic crowd was treated to an entertaining performance by the Bears in a spirited practice on a perfect night for football -- or almost any sport but hockey, actually.

Marshall beat Charles Tillman to catch a pair of bombs from Cutler, both 50-yards plus along the left sideline. The latter was the better example of what Marshall brings to the Bears -- adjusting to an underthrown ball and beating Tillman to the ball. On another occasion he plucked a high pass from Cutler out of the air with one hand and made it look easy.

''Brandon Marshall is a scholarship player, I think we'll agree with that,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''He made some big plays.''

Brian Price excited about his "fresh start"

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Just had a chance to speak to Brian Price, the Bears newest defensive tackle. He didn't get to practice today, but he's wearing his No. 95 jersey, and he's itching to join his new teammates.

Here are some highlights from his press conference:

* About being traded to the Bears: "I was happy. A brand new beginning, a fresh start. It don't get no better than this. The defense. This is a defensive town. Great leaders. The love of the game is coming back to me.

* On importance of a fresh start: "Yeah. That's what I needed. It was a great decision. Watching practice, it was hard to watch and not be a part of it. Just the tempo. Watching the guys. It's great. I'm happy to be a part of it."

* On where his mind is at right now, given his tumultuous few months: "Man, I'm here, wit this team, and I'm feeling great. A couple of months ago, it was nowhere near where I'm at now. Just being here, I feel better, like the weight of the world got lifted off my shoulders. I feel much better."

* On what happened Thursday with the Bucs: "I just hurt my leg in my first run. We had to run out of the three-point stance. Just hurt myself. I'm sore, but I'm good."

* On if he needs to ease into practices: "No, once I practice, I will get acclimated to the system. That's a part of being a professional. No matter what you're going through, you still got to show up and be a pro."

* His strengths: "I get off the ball. That's what I love to do. I can't wait to get started."

* On how close this defense is to Bucs defense, in terms of style: "I don't know. I try not to think about it. It brings up some crazy things, so I'm just happy to be here. I'm looking for a fresh start."

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 4

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There's nothing worse than a dress rehearsal for a dress rehearsal, which is basically what training camp practices without pads are. So after two days of almost purposely going through the motions, the Bears players and coaches are eager to get to Saturday night's practice in pads. They aren't alone.

Still, it wasn't entirely an uneventful day at Bourbonnais on Friday. Here's a capsule look at what happened on Day 4 of Bears training camp:

1. Devin Hester gets hurt, but returns to practice.

The Bears' ace kick returner -- and No. 2 wide receiver as of now -- gingerly walked off the practice field with trainers nearby after colliding with safety Major Wright -- a no-no in a non-contact practice -- on a downfield pass play. He said he tweaked his ankle ''just a little bit'' but returned after jogging off the injury on an adjacent practice field.

''I really don't know [what happened],'' Hester said. ''Both of us were going for the ball. It just kind of happens in football.''

Brian Price passes Bears physical

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Defensive tackle Brian Price, acquired in a trade Thursday, passed his physical with the Bears and will be available to practice in a few days.

A 2010 second-round pick, Price was traded by the Bucs on Thursday to the Bears for a seventh-round pick.

Coming out of UCLA, Price impressed current Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

"We looked at him [in 2010], and from other guys in the league, he's a physical guy, he fits like our guys, he's athletic, the movement is good, and he's got really good power, really good power," Marinelli said. "We're anxious to get him here and see what he's got."

The Bears got a little bit of a scare -- and still might not be out of the woods -- when wide receiver Devin Hester gingerly walked off the practice field at Olivet Nazarene with an ankle injury after colliding with Major Wright on a downfield pass play.

Hester jogged off the injury on an adjacent practice field, then returned for the final offensive drill of the day, making one catch of a pass from Jay Cutler.

Hester said he expects to practice Saturday night.

''I really don't know [what happened on the play],'' Hester said. ''Both of us were going for the ball. It just kind of happens in football.''

Rod Marinelli talks up his Bears defense

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Much of the focus so far has been on the Bears offense. But Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has plenty that he's thrilled about.

Ever the optimist, Marinelli isn't going to say much that's remotely close to critical. But, here are some of the highlights of his press conference today.

* On Brian Price: "We looked at him [coming out of UCLA in 2010], and from other guys in the league, he's a physical guy, he fits like our guys, he's athletic, the movement is good, and he's got really good power, really good power. We're anxious to get him here and see what he's got.

* On what he wants to see out of S Major Wright: "I think just the consistency, down in and down out. He's a heck of a tackler, he's got good ball skills and all those things, he just needs to keep playing in the system. Know exactly what you do every down."

* On if rookie S Brandon Hardin can push for playing time: "We hope so. In camp, it's open. We let every guy come in and compete. Show me game, put it on tape and we'll see what you've got. And then we'll evaluate guys and those guys kind of determine it. Hopefully they make it very tough on us to make decisions."

* On DT Stephen Paea: "He's really grown. I say that, and I believe that, but when the pads come on, we'll learn even more. I really believe in him right now. He's really got really good quickness, he's healthy, he's really healthy right now, and he looks extremely fast. So once we get the pads on, that's when we really see how much we've grown there."

We're just starting to get to know Michael Bush, so he's either got a droll sense of humor or he doesn't really enjoy some of the roles for which he's known.

At 6 foot 1, 245 pounds, Bush is a force, and he showed plenty of power and potential in Thursday's opening practice. But asked if he is looking forward to getting pads on, Bush said, "No.

"More shots at me. But that's how it is."

Then, Bush was asked if he liked short-yardage and goal-line running.

"That's the role I've been stuck with, because of my size," he said. "But if that's what I got to do, then that's what I got to do."

Asked if he doesn't necessarily like it, Bush said, "No one likes to be a battering ram but it just happens that way."

Naturally, Bush wants to be an every down back, but he won't get that chance, so long as Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte is healthy for the Bears. Bush showed plenty of skills last season, filling in for Darren McFadden and finished with 977 rushing yards, mostly in nine starts. He also had 37 catches for 418 yards, with eight total touchdowns.

You have to keep everything you see at training camp in -- except injuries -- in perspective. It's still just training camp. But some observations have more validity than others. Like this one: Jason Campbell gives the Bears an upgrade as their No. 2 quarterback.

Coming off a broken collarbone he suffered in Week 6 as the starter with the Oakland Raiders last year, Campbell looked more like a guy competing for the starting job in practice Thursday than a backup locked into the No. 2 spot with Jay Cutler around. At this time last year, Caleb Hanie was struggling enough that the Bears benched him for a practice in favor of rookie Nathan Enderle -- foreshadowing what would be a difficult season for Hanie that helped crush the Bears' once-solid playoff hopes.

Campbell was 4-2 as a starter with the Raiders when he was hurt (3-2 in complete games, though he was up 14-7 against the Browns when he was injured in the second quarter). In fact, he was 12-7 as a starter in two years with Oakland. The Raiders were 4-9 in games Campbell did not start in that span.

A year ago at this time, Dane Sanzenbacher already was on his way toward first-team reps in the Bears' first padded practice of training camp -- pretty good for an undrafted free agent whom the Bears had signed two days before training camp because of the NFL lockout.

But even after an impressive rookie season in which he caught 27 passes for 276 yards in limited play and still led all Bears wide receivers with three touchdowns, Sanzenbacher is almost back where he started: on the roster bubble, trying to ''do something they're going to remember.''

In fact, Sanzenbacher might be facing an even tougher task this season since the Bears have upgraded their wide receiver corps. Last year he had to beat out Andy Fantuz, Kris Adams, Onrea Jones and Jimmy Young for a roster spot. This year, even with Johnny Knox likely out for the season, he might have to beat out kick returners Devin Thomas or Eric Weems. Thomas' speed gives him an edge with Knox out. Weems' special-teams ability makes him tough to cut.

''It's going to be tough,'' Sanzenbacher said. ''[But] I can only control what I can control in the end. You just have to take it one day at a time, keep your head down and work.''

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 3

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The only buzz created by the breaking news that the Bears traded for Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Brian Price during practice Thursday was the murmur from fans in the stands wondering, 'Who the hell is Brian Price?' And even then, it must have been one of those murmurs that only dogs can hear.

Still, the acquisition of Price rightly upstaged anything else that went on at the team's first practice Thursday. The Bears still haven't had a press conference to announce the promotion of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator. But GM Phil Emery was front-and-center after practice to answer questions about Brian Price less than two hours after the trade was announced.

With that said, here's a look at what happened on Day 3 of Bears training camp:

1. The Price is right.

Emery took a low-risk gamble, trading a seventh-round pick in 2013 for Price, a 6-1, 343-pound defensive tackle who was the 35th pick of the 2010 draft. Price started 14 games for the Buccaneers last year but has been beset by physical and personal issues. After his sister Bridget, 30, died in a car accident in May, a distraught Price was hospitalized with a high fever and dehydration. In June, Price got in a fight with safety Mark Barron, the Bucs' first-round draft pick, during a meeting at the team's facility and was ''excused'' from mini-camp.

It's a long-shot ''change-of-scenery'' acquisition. But it addresses an area of need for the Bears. And the cost was low -- far less risky than trading a second-round pick to the Buccaneers (that the New England Patriots eventually turned into Rob Gronkowski) for defensive end Gaines Adams in 2009.

On the first play of the Bears' "team" drill (11-on-11) on the first day of practice in Bourbonnais, quarterback Jay Cutler rolled out on a bootleg and missed connections with Brandon Marshall, who was covered by Tim Jennings.

''Finish the play, Marshall. Finish the play,'' a fan yelled from the stands at Olivet Nazarene's practice field. ''You've been dropping them all day.''

Whether he had been or not doesn't matter. It's the first day of practice. That play doesn't mean Marshall can't catch or Cutler can't throw or Jennings is going to have a great season. If there was anything definitive to get out of that play it was that the Bears ran a bootleg for Jay Cutler.

J'Marcus Webb opened the first training camp practice at left tackle with the starters, but Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said it's not his job to lose.

Chris Williams wants the job, too.

"[Webb] happened to be in there first because of the fact he finished the season as the starter," Tice said. "It's going to be a dogfight for those two guys.

We have too many athletes, to not be able to throw the ball consistently. No, it's not [Webb's] job to lose. He might think so, but if he thinks so he's wrong."

Tice said, ultimately, the winner will be the one who can pass block consistently.

"I know they both can run block. But we're not going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game, so they have to protect," Tice said. "If they're not going to protect, they won't play for me."

Bears trade for DT Brian Price

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The Bears today acquired defensive tackle Brian Price, a second-round pick in 2010, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an undisclosed draft pick.

Price, who played at UCLA, is 6-1, 303 pounds and started 14 of 20 contests in two seasons. He had three sacks last season.

Chris Williams played it cool Thursday, trying to speak diplomatically about his battle for the starting left tackle spot against J'Marcus Webb.

"You just come in and keep working hard like I always do and let that stuff sort itself out," he said.

Asked about the pressure, Williams said, "You can find motivation anywhere.

"I'm just excited to be playing. We just want to get the season going and win games. There's always pressure. Everyone has a job to do - the whole team - and we just got to come out and do our best to be explosive and take care of our part of the bargain."

Williams said he's just excited to be healthy. Last year, he was sidelined after nine games because of a dislocated wrist.

Williams, like many others, talked about the explosiveness of the Bears offense.

"It is exciting. And, like I said, anything can pop at any time, with these guys. We just have to hold up our end of the bargain, and they'll take care of theirs," he said.

That's the multi-million question: Can the Bears o-line hold up?

More to come on this later.

The Bears' offensive line will be under the microscope when training camp practice begins Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University. And while the battle between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams at left tackle and the return of Gabe Carimi at right tackle will be the main focus, Mike Tice also will bear watching. How much of a hand will he have on the offensive line?

Tice is revered by his linemen and given much of the credit for whatever success the line had the past two seasons. (Don't laugh. The Bears were sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and per attempt last season; and Jay Cutler was sacked just nine times in his last seven games before suffering a season-ending injury -- it wasn't all Cutler and Matt Forte.)

Tice's promotion to offensive coordinator could impact the dynamic between Tice and his lineman. But that's not the case, said veteran center and team captain Roberto Garza.

''He's still the o-line coach even though he's the offensive coordinator. That's important to us because we know we play better under him,'' Garza said.

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 2

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With a ''day off'' after reporting, it was a pretty boring day at training camp Wednesday, unless you get a kick out of watching Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall stroll out of the dining hall -- though we never saw Cutler stroll out of the dining hall with Roy Williams.

Nonetheless here's a capsule look at Day 2 of Bears training camp.

1. Brian Urlacher speaks.

The veteran middle linebacker is always good for a ''state of the team'' outlook at the start of training camp and he was as real as he could be Wednesday. This could be the Bears' year.

''We always say that because it's the right thing to say, but I really think we can do it this year,'' Urlacher said. ''I mean, we're stacked at every position. Any time you add Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and our defense is healthy again -- which is a big deal to us -- and then Jay being back healthy is a big deal, too.''

While J'Marcus Webb vs. Chris Williams at left tackle is getting most of the attention at Bears training camp, Gabe Carimi vs. Gabe Carimi is the ''battle'' to watch on the Bears' offensive line.

The winner of Webb-Williams is still going to be J'Marcus Webb or Chris Williams this season -- not Joe Thomas or Jake Long. But the fate of Carimi -- who according to Mike Tice was already the Bears' best offensive lineman last year after six NFL quarters until he suffered a dislocated kneecap -- has a much greater variance in production. If he picks up where he left off, he can become a Pro Bowl caliber right tackle who solidifies a key position on the line. If he struggles to recover from the injury or suffers another injury, the Bears will be scrambling as they did last season.

Even the ever-confident Carimi isn't sure how it's going to play out. As practice opens Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Carimi is ready to go all-out as he re-starts his rookie season.

''I just need to go prove myself,'' Carimi said. ''Just go out there, work hard and follow my teammates and my leaders and I think I'll be OK.

''I don't have any [health] concerns. Just ready to go. Everyone's happy with my progress so far. I feel it's going well. I came into this ready for this [training camp]. I just have to give it my all. I still have a lot to learn.''

When Jerry Angelo made the bold move to trade for Jay Cutler in 2009, he thought he had solved a chronic quarterback problem for the Bears. Unfortunately there was one more step he failed to address: You not only have to acquire Jay Cutler, you have to keep him comfortable.

The Bears think they've finally done that. They replaced offensive coordinator Mike Martz with offensive line coach Mike Tice; they hired Cutler's former quarterback coach from Denver, Jeremy Bates; they acquired Cutler's favorite receiver from Denver, Brandon Marshall; and they traded up in the second round to draft another big receiver in 6-4 Alshon Jeffery.

''Jay is a cornerstone player of our franchise,'' Bears general manager Phil Emery said. ''We want to build around Jay. We feel very good about his talent level and his abilty and talents and traits to lead us to championships. So definitely we want to bring weapons around him.''

''This is the most comfortable I think I've been going into a camp, with the offense and what we're doing scheme-wise and the talent around me,'' Cutler said upon arriving at training camp Tuesday in Bourbonnais.

Bears Training Camp Digest -- Day 1

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A recap of Day 1 at Bears training camp in Bourbonnais:

1. Phil Emery: All the pieces might be in place.

In Phil Emery's first year as general manager, the Bears open training camp with some significant issues (offensive line, defensive line) but no distractions. Matt Forte is signed and happy. Jay Cutler is in a comfort zone. Until further notice, Emery is still the guy who acquired Brandon Marshall.

''I think we've made progress. But to say a Super Bowl contender, it has to be earned on the field,'' Emery said when asked if he thinks he has put together a roster that will be a Super Bowl contender. ''Do we have good, talented players that can contribute towards a winning team and moving toward our goals of winning a championship? Yes, we do. Are we there yet? No, we're not. We've got to earn that every day on the field.''

One minute Phil Emery was asked about the Super Bowl. The next minute he was asked about Lovie Smith's job status.

One way or another, this is going to be an interesting Bears season.

While optimism ruled the day when Emery and Smith met the media Tuesday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Emery left little doubt that Smith's job is on the line in 2012. When Emery was hired in February, Smith was the only part of the organization below him he could not touch. But only for a year.

Judging by the way Emery has taken control since replacing Jerry Angelo as general manager, it's pretty clear that while Emery totally respects the job Smith does as the Bears' head coach, he still has to see results to convince him that Smith is his long-term coach.

The last time Phil Emery stayed at Olivet Nazarene for Bears training camp was in 2004 when he was an area scout for Jerry Angelo. Now he's the Big Cheese.

''The one big difference that I did see was now I have furniture in my room,'' said Emery, the Bears' first-year general manager who replaced Angelo after last season. ''I have a couch and an easy chair, which I did not get to enjoy as an area scout. That's a nice change right off the bat.''

With all due respect to Emery, the biggest difference literally was right in front of his face. A typically large media contingent, while lightly grilling Emery on the future of coach Lovie Smith, was more interested in how good the Bears might be rather than how bad.

''Well, I think we've made progress. But to say a Super Bowl contender -- it has to be earned on the field,'' said Emery, a scout for the Bears from 1998-2004.

''Do we have good talented players that can contribute towards a winning team and moving towards our goals of winning a championship? Yes we do. Are we there yet? No we're not. We've got to earn that every day on the field.''

Hours before an NFL deadline, the Bears and Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte are finalizing a four-year contract worth about $32 million, according to a source close to the situation.

The two sides had until 3 p.m. CST to work out a long-term deal or else Forte would have had to play the 2012 season under a franchise tag worth $7.742 million. Instead, he'll get more than $18 million guaranteed, according to the source.

The guaranteed money is less than what LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster received earlier this offseason. But those players signed five-year deals, with $20.7 million guaranteed.

"I'm proud to be a Chicago Bear and excited to be here for another four years," Forté said. "I'd like to thank my family, my agent and the Chicago Bears. I've been working hard this offseason and am looking forward to joining my teammates at training camp next week. I'm glad the business part is done and we can all turn our attention to football and our goal of winning a championship."

The Bears confirmed the Sun-Times report by announcing that he passed a physical and signed the four-year deal.

"We're very pleased that we were able to come to terms on a four-year extension with Matt," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We're excited to get him on the field and continue working towards our goal of winning a championship."

The deal is a relief to Forte, a second-round pick who had outperformed his four-year, $3.7 million rookie contract. Backups such as Chester Taylor and Marion Barber made more than him the last two seasons, although Forte hadn't missed a game until the final four of 2011 because of a sprained MCL.

Before that injury, though, Forte led the league in total yards from scrimmage, and he earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. With a base salary of $550,000, Forte was a finalist for Vizio's "Top Value Performer" in 2011.

In March, the Bears were among an NFL record 21 clubs to utilize its franchise tag. Several clubs appeared content not to work toward a new contract with the players they tagged, but new Bears general manager Phil Emery backed up comments he made in a statement in announcing the team's use of the franchise tag.

"Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond," Emery said in the March statement.

In recent days, quarterback Drew Brees and safety Tyvon Branch signed long-term deals with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders, respectively. Brees signed a six-year deal that included an NFL record $60 million in guarantees.

Bears Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte didn't reveal much during an interview with ESPN Friday.

But, he told ESPN's Adam Schefter that he was "optimistic" that a long-term deal could be reached before Monday's deadline.

"I'm a very optimistic guy," Forte told Schefter. "So going into this weekend, I'm very optimistic that it'll get done and say my prayers and everything."

Asked how challenging his contract status has been, Forte said, "It gets irritating because it's all I've been hearing about.

"Just look forward and be optimistic about getting this deal done. Hopefully, both sides can come to a middle ground."

There was one awkward moment. Schefter asked Forte what would happen if there was no deal by Monday.

"I think we all know," Forte said.

Schefter asked again, and Forte just shook his head.

Schefter asked if Forte wouldn't show up to training camp, and Forte again declined to answer.

If a deal isn't consummated by Monday, Forte will have to play the 2012 season for the franchise tender of $7.7 million. That's certainly not chump change, but Forte obviously would prefer a long-term deal that would guarantee him more than double that amount.

As many of you know, there are few analysts I respect more than Ron Jaworski of ESPN.

ESPN is televising a 30-part series of Jaworski's QB Countdown series, and he's ranked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler eighth overall.

Remarkably, Cutler didn't rank among the top 100 players, according to NFL Network. But Jaworski has Cutler ahead of many notable quarterbacks. For instance, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was ranked 40th on NFL Network, but Jaworski has him 15th. Within the NFC North, NFL Network has Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions at No. 41 but Jaworski has him 14th.

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