Chicago Sun-Times

August 2012 Archives

Tyler Clutts always seems to land on his feet.

A defensive end at Fresno State who played fullback, special teams and even did some long-snapping to make it in the NFL, Clutts was the odd-man out as the Bears' cut their roster to the 53-player maximum Friday -- a fullback in an offense the prefers ''H-back'' tight ends as a lead blocker.

But instead of getting cut outright, the Bears traded Clutts to the Houston Texans for veteran cornerback Sherrick MaManis. The Texans reportedly were not he only team interested in Clutts.

Regardless, Clutts left Chicago and headed for Houston on Friday night with mixed emotions.

''It's bittersweet,'' he told the Sun-Times. ''It's tough leaving a place like Chicago. But I'm really excited about the new opportuity. Really with a great organization that is on the rise.''

Josh McCown open to returning to Bears

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Hours after being informed of his release, Josh McCown gathered his belongs, booked a flight and traveled to Charlotte.

He had a football game to help coach.

McCown landed in Charlotte Friday evening, and he headed toward Marvin Ridge High School's football game.

"They're 0-2, and they've gone through some lumps, and I'm going through a change in my plans," McCown told the Sun-Times, "so we can both benefit from each other."

McCown was admittedly surprised when he was told of his release Friday morning.

"I understand this business, and I understand some of those moves have to be made," McCown said. "But, it's a bummer because I feel like this is a very good team. You put a lot of work into being a part of the team. I wish I could be a part of it. But I'm still rooting for them."

Josh McCown released by Bears

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Despite a strong performance Thursday night, Josh McCown was informed of his release by the Bears Friday morning, according to league sources.

McCown completed 20 of 29 passes for 157 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. But, McCown got the Bears off to a strong start with a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dane Sanzenbacher in the first quarter. For most of the first half, he was close to a perfect passer rating.

He was third on the depth chart, behind starter Jay Cutler and backup Jason Campbell, who was signed during the offseason.

If he was on the opening day roster, McCown would have been guaranteed his entire 2012 base salary of $825,000, because he's a vested veteran. Now, if the Bears bring him back, he gets paid based on the number of weeks he's on the roster.

McCown played well down the stretch last season, after Caleb Hanie faltered.

CB Greg McCoy will be released

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Greg McCoy, a seventh-round pick, was informed of his release, according to a league source.

McCoy had an uphill battle to make the roster, although he played well in the preseason finale.

The Bears have a lot of experience ahead of him, with Charles Tillman, D.J. Moore, Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden. The Bears may have kept one fewer cornerback because of the injuries at the safety position.

Amobi Okoye to re-join Bears

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Amobi Okoye is about to be back with the Bears.

The defensive lineman was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he's finalizing a deal to return to the Bears, according to a league source.

A former 10th overall pick, Okoye posted his second-best sack total last season as a Bears reserve, and he signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract with the Bucs during the offseason.

But, Okoye underwent a knee scope in June, and he missed the last three preseason games.

Bucs rookie head coach Greg Schiano apparently lost patience with Okoye, despite trouble with the team's depth on the defensive line.

"You can be a little cautious at times," Schiano said of Okoye, according to the Tampa Times Thursday night. "We've tried to do that. But at the end of the day, you've got to go out and earn a spot."

Recently, Schiano also acknowledged that the Bucs took a risk with Okoye because of his "history with that knee."

The Bears have had a host of injuries themselves along the defensive line.

Matt Toeaina entered training camp with a cast, and Stephen Paea missed the final three preseason games with an ankle injury. On Thursday night, Brian Price - whom the Bears traded a seventh-round pick to the Bucs to get - left the game early and underwent tests to evaluate whether he had a head injury.

Nate Collins has flashed at times, but he'll be suspended for the first game of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The only completely healthy defensive tackle is Henry Melton.

McCoy, Golden, Adibi and others went out with a bang

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Dane Sanzenbacher knows what it takes to make the team.

''I learned through playing in college [that] realistically, you've only go to make on play in a game that people are going to remember,'' the Bears wide receiver said. ''If you're solid and you make that one play, you're on the right track.''

Sanzenbacher was among several Bears who made plays in their preseason finale Thursday night, a 28-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Browns Stadium. His 30-yard touchdown reception from Josh McCown confirmed what the Bears already knew: Sanzenbacher knows how to find the end zone. In limited playing time, he led all Bears wide receivers with three touchdowns last season.

Sanzenbacher seems like a good bet for the 53-man roster if he wasn't already on it prior to Thursday. All the other standout performers should be so fortunate. Many of them likely will end up with only the satisfaction of knowing they gave it their best shot.

Armando Allen shines in Bears 28-20 win over Browns

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Bears running back Armando Allen saved his best for last.

Competing with Lorenzo Booker to be the third running back, Allen had game-highs in receiving and rushing yards against the Cleveland Browns.

Booker asserted himself with 15 carries for 81 yards. But, after Booker left the game to check on a head injury, Allen finished strong with a 49-yard run in the waning minutes to seal the Bears' 28-20 win. Allen finished the game with 16 carries for 83 yards and five catches for 51 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown. On that play, Allen showcased his versatility, lining up as a receiver and running a slant pattern.

"I don't know what the deal was with Lorenzo," Allen said. "At the end of the day, the only thing I can do is focus on what I have to do when my number is called.

"So that was my main focus... I feel that I did everything that I could to help our team to win as that was the most important thing for us."

Allen, though, did more. He also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter on a punt. Punter Ryan Quigley recovered the ball at the Bears' 46-yard line.

"Overall, special teams is big for a number three guy," Allen said, "and for this game, it was very, very important to get that fumble. I am just happy that I was able to go out there and make a play."

Booker was not available for comment after the game.

Money may or may not be a factor. The Bears shed Kahlil Bell, who was the third running back last season, because he was due to make nearly $1.3 million. Booker, meanwhile, would make $700,000, while Allen is slated to make $390,000.

Bears coach Lovie Smith opted not to play all of his starters and most of his key reserves. But, Smith still recognized that the preseason finale mattered to many of the players who were -- at least for one more night -- Bears.

"You want to finish the preseason this way," Smith said. "This was a Super Bowl for some of the players trying to earn a spot on the roster or just establish their position."

He highlighted running backs Lorenzo Booker and Armando Allen, safety Jeremy Jones, punter Ryan Quigley, receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and veteran quarterback Josh McCown, who were all key in the Bears 28-20 win.

"First off, I don't think anyone really played bad," Smith said. "A lot of players in there won't be with us anymore. And I assume as a player going out, you don't want to have any regrets. And you don't have regrets if you say, 'Hey, I played as well as I could, the last time out,' and I think most guys can say that tonight."

CLEVELAND - A shaky left side of the offensive line and a starting quarterback in Jay Cutler who hasn't finished a full season from post to post the past two years?

Third string quarterback Josh McCown has to be a shoe-in to make the 53-man roster when final cuts are made. Has to be, right?

Welcome to the most anxious next 24 hours of Bears camp.

"It's a crazy game, crazy day, so you never know,'' McCown said after the 28-20 win over the Browns on Thursday. "I'll be thankfully waiting. My comfort is knowing that God will put me where he wants me to be. That's where my trust is. If I'm supposed to be here then great. Don't get me wrong, I'll be extremely sad because of these guys, [quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Jay Cutler]. These guys are some of the best guys I've ever worked with. Jeremy Bates is one of the best quarterback coaches I've ever worked with, so that combination together, and you feel like we're building something special. It would make me sad to know that I won't be a part of it.

"But I understand and trust [GM Phil Emery] and Lovie [Smith] that they're going to make the decisions that they feel are best for the team. You can't say you trust them all the time, and then when they make a decision that's not in your favor all of a sudden 'They're bad.' I trust them, and I hope with everything it works out for me.''

McCown was solid in making a final statement, as the quarterback played the entire game, going 20-for-29 for 157 yards and threw two touchdowns with an interception. And even with McCown acting uneasy, the Bears would leave a wake of some serious head-shaking if they cut the veteran quarterback.

The one decision McCown is glad he doesn't have to make? The battle between running backs Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker.

The two went head-to-head in the final preseason game, as Allen carried the ball 16 times for 83 yards, caught five balls for 51 yards and a touchdown, and even had a strip on the punting team. Booker had 15 carries for 81 yards, catching four passes for 16 yards.

"I don't want to be making that call, you know,'' McCown said. "They both played really well. I played with 'Book' in the UFL a couple of years ago, so I've seen him play, I know he's a good player. Armando, I played with him at the end of last year. Both are just good running backs. We'll see what happens. I'm glad I'm not the guy making that call. Both really good players.''

Stephen Paea tests ankle before preseason finale

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Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea, whose strong preseason was derailed by an ankle injury, did some running under the watchful eye of a medical official at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Paea was competing with Matt Toeaina for the starting defensive tackle spot next to Henry Melton. At the start of camp, Toeaina had a cast on his right hand, and Paea -- looking strong and explosive -- got off to a strong start. But, against the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener, Paea injured his ankle.

There's hope that he'll be ready to resume practice next week.

Bears waive injured LB Dom DeCicco; re-sign Crump

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With injuries to Brian Urlacher, punter Adam Podlesh and Stephen Paea that could keep them out of the season opener against the Colts, the Bears did not have the luxury of a roster spot for second-year linebacker Dom DeCicco, who will undergo surgery for a sports hernia next week.

The Bears waived DeCicco as an injured player Wednesday and re-signed wide receiver Terriun Crump, the Western Illinois and Rich Central product who had been cut Sunday.

DeCicco made the team last season as an undrafted free agent from Pittsburgh, where he played for former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt. A hybrid safety/linebacker at Pitt, he wasn't ready to play linebacker in the NFL, but became a special-teams standout. ''Dom DeCicco last year was a guy that kind of kept growing on everybody,'' special teams coordinator Dave Toub said, ''and all of the sudden he was that special-teams guy for us.''

DeCicco ended up with 17 special-teams tackles last season, second on the team behind Pro Bowler Corey Graham. He was making strides at linebacker in training camp this season but aggravated a groin injury in the preseason opener against the Broncos that he originally suffered in the offseason program.

STATS hosting high-stakes Fantasy Football

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Just visited some friends over at Northbrook-based STATS LLC. They are a great help to my and our paper's Bears and NFL coverage.

I don't have the big bucks for this, but they are hosting in-person, high-stakes drafts at the Chicago Hyatt Regency O'Hare on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8.

How high are the stakes?

The National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) contests have entry fees that range from $850 to $1,500. But, the league prizes are $7,000 and grand prizes are up to $150,000.

There are some spots still available. For more information, visit or call Greg Ambrosius at 715-254-5553.

From a Bears perspective, STATS says Jay Cutler has been the 14th fantasy quarterback selected, just behind Robert Griffin III. Matt Forte is, on average, the seventh running back taken, and Robbie Gould is ninth for kickers and Brandon Marshall is seventh among wide receiver.

The Bears defense, on average, is picked sixth.

I was tempted to ask Adam Podlesh, who spoke with reporters about his hip flexor injury Tuesday, if he's been to Europe lately. But once Channel 7's Jim Rose struck out on two pitches trying to get Podlesh to divulge anything about his treatment, I thought better of it -- even though Podlesh has a good sense of humor.

If Lovie Smith monitors such things -- it wouldn't surprise me if he did -- he'd give Podlesh kudos for effortlessly fending off the interrogation without a scratch on him.

Q. What is the timetable for your return?

A. "We don't have a real timetable right now, but like I said, the rehab has been going real well and the training staff has been doing a great job maintaining my work ethic on the treatments.''

Q. What type of rehab work are you doing?

A. ''Whatever they tell me to do.''

Q. I mean like electro-stimulation, cold, heat ...

A. ''It changes day by day, so I can't put my finger on one thing in particular that we're doing. A lot of it is very consistent with a hip flexor injury. Like I said, it changes day-to-day depending on what Bobby and Chris Hanks want me to do.''

We get to see so little of Bears practice once they return from Bourbonnais -- even the usual 10-minute segments are down to less than five this year -- that by nature we overanalyze little things. In fact, sometimes we spend more time trying to figure out if what we saw was what we saw or what Lovie Smith wanted us to see than we actually spend watching "practice."

So take it for what it's worth that linebacker Brian Urlacher was very purposefully taking "mental reps" while the Bears were doing preliminary work in position groups in practice on Tuesday. That is, while the linebackers were lineup and responding to snaps, Urlacher was a few yards behind the "starting" group simulating the same response -- getting in pre-snap position then taking a step or two at the ''snap.''

While La Ley 107.9 FM was introduced as the Bears' new Spanish Radio partner, one of the station's new broadcasters is already familiar with the team's hottest duo.

Jose Luis Marquez "El Pitufo" worked in Denver, where he got to know Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler.

"I'm used to that combination," Marquez said. "I saw them before the Redskins [preseason] game. It was like riding a bike."

I can't speak Spanish, but Marquez and partner Liz Liz "La Dama del Deporte" certainly brought a lot of energy when doing a mock play during a press conference Tuesday.

The Bears are the 14th NFL team to have Spanish radio broadcasts. The only other team in the NFC North to have Spanish play-by-play is the Minnesota Vikings.

So here's a little more info on the two broadcasters:

* Marquez grew up in Sante Fe, where he played three years of varsity football at Capital High School.

* A graduate of the University of New Mexico, he's also worked in Dallas and Albuquerque.

Punter Adam Podlesh is still a question mark for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts in just under two weeks, as the hip flexor on his non-punting leg is still a rehab work in progress.

"No one has ruled that out yet, it's still a possibility,'' Podlesh said on Tuesday of a Week 1 start. "We're going to be smart about how we can get myself back on the field.''

By smart Podlesh meant that he can do more than just punt the ball for the Bears and run off the field.

"The way [special teams coordinator] Dave Toub has talked about how we want guys that are going to cover, get down field, regardless of your position when you're out there, you're going to be giving your all, and if I'm not in a position where I can do that, I don't think they're going to put me in that position,'' Podlesh explained.

A bigger concern for Podlesh, as well as the rest of the players around the league? Will the replacement referees be ready for Week 1?

Podlesh is the Bears' player representative to the union, and has been a sounding board for all the concerns coming from the locker room.

"I voiced it before, you can talk to a lot of players that are concerned about it, obviously,'' Podlesh admitted. "The pace of play with this game, which will change from the preseason to the regular season, is a concern with new referees. Usually these referee crews don't replace more than one member of their crew each year, and essentially you now have everybody that's new. That change of pace of play is going to be a concern. Let's see if they can keep up, and foremost, they protect the player, keep them safe, which is something that the players and the NFL have been doing a whole lot to maintain. And to continue to progress in keeping the players safe. That's a strong point of concern with the replacement referees. Not to say that they won't be able to do it, it's just a concern because it's a question mark on if they will be able to handle that change of pace of play.''

Asked if there were specific concerns that kept coming up, Podlesh said there were numerous concerns, but all of them got back to the exact same place: Player safety.

"It depends on the player you talk to,'' he said. "But on the whole, in the back of our minds is a bit of a concern because like I said before, these referees have never refereed in a regular-season NFL game. That's a bit of a concern.''

Don't sweat the Madden curse, since there's no Bears player on the cover. But, the popular video game has predicted the Bears and the New England Patriots to win their respective conferences with 12-4 records.

The video game projected the Green Bay Packers would also finish 12-4 but lose the NFC North tiebreaker. Be clear, though, that the Madden simulation isn't suggesting that the Bears will face the Patriots.

Other notable projections:

* Three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady capturing his third NFL MVP award with a record-tying 50 touchdowns and 5,374 passing yards

* DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys is projected as defensive player of the year with 18 sacks

* Romeo Crennel of the Kansas City Chiefs as coach of the year, leading his team to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.

* Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions winning offensive player of the year with 97 catches for 1,572 yards and 16 touchdowns.

* Jay Cutler ranking ninth in the NFL, in terms of passing yards, with 4,215 but fifth with 36 touchdowns. But, they project him to finish second among the top 10 quarterbacks with 18 interceptions. His numbers, though, pale in comparison to Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.

* Matt Forte will finish seventh in rushing yards with 1,250 and ninth with nine rushing touchdowns.

* Brandon Marshall will finish eighth with 1,185 receiving yards and 10th with 80 catches. Both those numbers seem low, as well as his eight receiving touchdowns.

* Julius Peppers isn't among the top 10 in sacks.

And then there were 75...

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The Bears continued trimming the roster down on Monday, as they announced during the afternoon practice that they had waived running back Harvey Unga.

Unga was selected in the seventh round of the 2010 Supplemental Draft by Chicago, after playing his college ball at BYU. He spent the 2010 season in injured reserve and last year on the reserve/left team list.

With the move, the roster now sits at 75..

The Bears-Browns final preseason game made all the difference for Tyler Clutts last year.

Clutts was a Browns fullback on the roster bubble who played special teams in that game. He was cut by the Browns and signed to their practice squad. But, as allowed by NFL rules, the Bears signed him off the Browns practice squad onto their 53-man roster.

Clutts, who didn't join the team until Wednesday of Week 1, quickly made an impact in the season-opener against the Falcons -- besides stellar play on special teams, he had key blocks on a 56-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard catch by Devin Hester and also blocked on Jay Cutler's one-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth in the Bears' 30-12 victory. That was the start of a productive rookie season in the NFL.

That's why players go all out in the final preseason game regardless of their roster status -- the whole NFL is watching.

''Looking back on it, that was probably the biggest game of my entire football career,'' said Clutts, who was called for an illegal block on a punt return in the game -- a call he disputed. ''I went into the [preseason finale] feeling really good about my position in Cleveland. But the team had other plans. Luckily I played well enough for Chicago to sign me.''

Bears coach Lovie Smith said eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher will be ready for the team's regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.

Urlacher, recovering from sprained ligaments in his left knee he suffered in the season finale on Jan. 1 against the Vikings, has not practiced since July 31 -- that's 26 days ago and counting. He had arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Aug. 14.

Asked if Urlacher and punter Adam Podlesh -- who is recovering from a hip injury -- is on pace to be ready for the opener, Smith said, ''Yes, and they are making progress.

''Once you break training camp, the practices aren't as hard as they are down there, so you have the time to make some ground as far as the injuries are concerned. Guys are getting treatment, and yes, everyone is on pace the way we thought they would be.''

Johnny Knox believes he will play again

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Receiver Johnny Knox wasn't surprised when the Bears placed him on the physically unable to perform list, which means he'll miss the first six weeks of the season.

"It was to be expected," Knox said. "I knew I wouldn't be able to come back for training camp or preseason, so I'm just still taking it day by day."

Asked about his hope of returning in 2012, Knox said, "Most definitely.

"It could be six weeks into the season, or later in the season. But, we'll all see."

Naturally, Knox said it's been difficult to watch practices and not contribute to the team.

"But, I've learned some things, by sitting back and watching the other guys," he said. "The guys are out there competing and having fun, and I just want to have a piece of that."

Asked if he'll ever play in the NFL again, Knox said, "I do believe I'll be back on the field.

"It could be this season, next season, who knows? But I'm going to keep striving to get better and get back on the field."

Brandon Hardin on IR; Knox on PUP; Bears cut 9 others

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As expected, the Bears placed rookie safety Brandon Hardin on the injured reserve list and wide receiver Johnny Knox on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Sunday. They also cut nine players, including defensive tackle John McCargo and rookie quarterback Matt Blanchard.

Hardin is out for the season after suffering a neck injury making a tackle in the second preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Aug. 18. Hardin also did not play last season at Oregon State after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason practice.

Being placed on the PUP list means Knox will be out for at least six weeks, though it is probably more likely than not that he will miss the entire season. Knox still is recovering from spinal fusion surgery after suffering a severe back injury against the Seattle Seahawks last Dec. 18 at Soldier Field.

Ryan Quigley has a strong showing

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Stepping in for veteran Adam Podlesh, undrafted rookie Ryan Quigley proved to the Bears -- and other NFL clubs -- that he belongs in the league.

Quigley averaged 37.4 net yards on seven of his eight punts, not including one that was blocked. While he took blame for the blocked punt, he clearly wasn't at fault, as backup running back Harvey Unga missed the New York Giants player.

"Ryan Quigley did a good job punting the football," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's done that for us in practice. I like seeing a guy with a great opportunity in front of him (who) steps up to the plate, and he did that."

What Quigley did Friday night was significant on several fronts. First, he showed that the opportunity wasn't too big for him. Second, in the vent Podlesh can't return right at the start of the season, Quigley can serve as a solid fill-in.

That could save the Bears a lot of money. If they had to sign a veteran before the season opener, the Bears would have had to guarantee that player's salary for the entire season, even if he only lasted on the roster a couple of weeks.

Quigley, though, gets paid on a game-to-game basis.

Friday, though, was a dream come true.

"I think back to when I was 10 years old -- if you would have told me I would be doing this," he said, "I'd have said, 'No way.' ''

Jay Cutler: "It was hit and miss"

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wasn't too disappointed about the offense's performance.

"It was hit and miss. We did some good things but we missed some communication stuff," he said. "We have to get the running game going. We have to get Matt [Forte]going. We are not going to be a successful offense if we can't run the ball."

Forte has had a very quiet preseason, carrying the ball 14 times for 55 yards. He had a miserable first half, before getting a 24-yarder on his first run of the second half. But, that ran -- and an 11-yarder on the next play -- came against backup defenders for the New York Giants.

Meanwhile, Cutler completed just nine of 21 passes for 96 yards. There were some poor throws and some dropped passes.

"Brandon [Marshall] and I missed some things," Cutler said. "Everything was just a little bit off a count in the passing game. We made some plays and we missed some stuff. We missed a touchdown because of communication. There is some stuff that can be easily fixed but it needs to be fixed in the next two weeks."

Cutler and Marshall, though, did have one of the highlights of the preseason, a 21-yard touchdown. On the play, with the Giants playing Cover Two, Cutler found the hole in the defense, when the safety rolled over too late.

"I think they were trying to disguise a little bit and the back side safety got stuck a little bit and I just put it in that corner," Cutler said.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - J'Marcus Webb might not have officially won the starting left tackle job on Friday, but he definitely didn't lose it, either.
Now, Webb would admittedly like to hear from the coaching staff that a decision has finally been made for that starting spot, putting an end to the camp-long battle between him and Chris Williams.
Not that Webb would admit to that right away, following the 20-17 win over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. As a matter of fact, he was doing his best to downplay the situation by discussing his day away from the football field.
"I got a good nap in, and I'm feeling pretty good now,'' Webb said. "I have to look at the film, and in addition to the chicken, the shrimp and the pasta [I ate], it really made it a good night.
"Man, that pasta was ... nah, I'm kidding. I would like some resolution, but you know, that's not up to me. I feel like I keep working hard and playing the way I'm playing, and everything will work out on its own.''
Webb called it a "good night,'' but he might have been underestimating it a bit, with the tackle - as well as the entire first unit - not allowing a sack.
The only bad play that Webb will see on film was a handoff to Matt Forte in which Webb allowed Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora to simply step around him on the inside and blow up Forte for a loss of two yards.
"[No sacks] was definitely a good sign,'' Webb added. "You definitely want to move the ball up and down the field, work as a unit that feels good and strong, and then come out with the win.
"I think we did a solid job, but just got to look at the film. Can't give you anymore than that right now.''
But barring something unforeseen, Webb now seems to have that spot locked up.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - What to watch for tonight when the Bears take on the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in preseason game No. 3.

1. All eyes on the line - It has been talked about all week long, almost to ad nauseam, but there is no denying that it's final exam time for an offensive line that has been far from pulling passing grades since training camp started. Pay attention to the left side in particular, with tackle J'Marcus Webb and guard Chris Spencer in pass/fail mode against the Giants elite front line.

2. The middle - Nick Roach is the fill-in for Brian Urlacher, as long as the Urlacher and the mystery surrounding his injured left knee are on the sideline. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has several young tight ends he would love to break in against Lovie Smith's Tampa 2, so Roach will be tested against the run and pass.

3. Safety dance - No Chris Conte [shoulder], no Brandon Hardin [neck], which means Chris Steltz is the next man up, working next to Major Wright. The Bears insist that both Conte and Hardin will be ready for the start of the season, but that remains to be seen.

4. All systems go - The Bears have been bragging about all the weapons they have on offense, but going right down the field against Washington like they did last week is one thing, the Giants? That's a big boy defense that will test Jay Cutler and his receivers to the extreme.

Bears give RB Kahlil Bell a break -- by cutting him

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Asked earlier this week if Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker were ''pushing'' Kahlil Bell for the No. 3 running back spot on the Bears' roster, offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn't even bother to feign interest.

''I have other stuff to worry about,'' Tice said. ''I'm not going to worry about who the third back is.''

Tice's disinterest serves as a backdrop that puts the release of Bell on Thursday into the proper perspective. Bell is an NFL-quality running back who will probably help another team more than he was going to help the Bears this season. But regardless, barring major injuries to both Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the No. 3 running back is unlikely to matter in Tice's offense this season.

Keeping Matt Forte happy with whatever touches he gets will likely be of greater concern -- though probably not to Tice -- because the Bears are going to be a passing offense in 2012. As Tice said early in training camp, pass blocking will determine who starts and who doesn't on the offensive line. ''With all the great athletes we have who can catch the football ... we've got to be able to protect the quarterback,'' Tice said.

Jacksonville Jaguars All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew respects new Bears running back Michael Bush. Jones-Drew also, obviously, respects Bears starting running back Matt Forte, one of his close NFL friends.

But Jones-Drew said in a video teleconference Wednesday night that any running back prefers to be the featured back in an act.

"You always want to be the main guy," Jones-Drew said. "It's something every kid dreams of being. No one ever dreams of being the backup.

"What I told [Forte] was, 'It's going to be a healthy competition, because you know Michael Bush is going to come in, wanting take your job, and you have to fend him off.' "

Jones-Drew said he had to do that with Rashad Jennings, his backup in Jacksonville, who has averaged a healthy 5.4 yards per run.

"It's been a tough job for me," Jones-Drew said of holding off Jennings. "But that's how you have to perform. If you don't perform, they're going to find someone else that can do your job for you. I think Matt Forte is going to do a great job. He's up for the competition. I expect great things for him."

Jones-Drew is currently holding out, insisting that the Jaguars re-work a contract that is scheduled to play him $4.45 million this season.

But on Wednesday night, Jones-Drew attracted a media crowd during a DirecTV promotional appearance via Oovoo.com, a video teleconferencing site. The primary function was for Jones-Drew to answer fantasy football questions, although he fielded some general ones, as well.

Lorenzo Booker's 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Bears' victory over the Washington Redskins last week at least served notice that the battle for the No. 3 running back spot is not just between Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen.

The 5-10, 200-pound Booker has played primarily special teams in four NFL seasons with the Dolphins (2007), Eagles (2008) and Vikings (2009-10). He signed with the Bears a week before training camp began.

It remains to be seen what the kick return touchdown does for Booker's chances of making the Bears' roster. Reserves have to contribute on special teams, but as impressive as Booker's return was, the Bears already have better returners in Devin Hester and Eric Weems.

''It doesn't matter to me that the greatest returner of all time and another Pro Bowler [Eric Weems] is here. I want to be here,'' Booker said. ''It's a great team. They have one of the better special-teams units, especially on returns. I want to contribute.''

Bears starting safety Chris Conte said that his shoulder socket popped out in Saturday's game against the Washington Redskins but that he expects to return in time for the regular season.

"It's not a big deal," Conte said. "I don't plan on missing any regular-season games, but the preseason was going well and you want to keep on getting better and playing in the preseason, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen."

Conte, though, made clear that Bears medical officials haven't given him an exact return date yet. He said that's the first time he's separated his shoulder.

Veteran Craig Steltz will start with Major Wright in Friday's preseason game against the New York Giants.

Matt Dodge will workout for Bears

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The Bears are working out veteran punter Matt Dodge today, a league source confirmed.

ESPN Chicago first reported the news.

Bears top punter Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury while trying to make a tackle on a return touchdown in Saturday's 33-31 victory over the Washington Redskins. Podlesh initially said that he received positive indications of a return before the regular season.

"I just felt a little something there," Podlesh said Saturday. "I plan on being back Week 1. From what I've heard so far, it seems pretty positive.

"We'll rehab it until Week 1, and we should be good.''

Ryan Quigley, a rookie from Boston College, is the only other punter on the roster. He averaged 41.5 yards per punt Saturday night, with a long of 44 yards. Podlesh's longest punt was 51 yards.

Dodge was a seventh-round pick of the New York Giants in 2010. He averaged 44.8 yards per punt as a rookie, but he punted the ball to DeSean Jackson, against the wishes of his coaches, and he was criticized afterwards by Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

Jackson, of course, returned the punt for a touchdown in a wild Eagles comeback win.

While Dodge has more experience than Quigley, if he's on the roster at the start of the season, the Bears would have to pay him for the entire season, not just the weeks he's on the roster. If Podlesh is expected back early in the season, that option may be prohibitive.

'Battering ram' Michael Bush quicker than he looks

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It was no surprise that running back Michael Bush scored two touchdowns inside the 10-yard line in Saturday night's victory over the Washington Redskins. But the 6-1, 245-pound Bush's ability to make defenders miss and create his own space in such close quarters was pretty impressive even to his teammates.

''He has a little quicker feet than anyone anticipated,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said. ''Making a guy miss in the hole -- that kind of threw us for a loop just watching it.

''He's a hard worker, a professional. He's a sleeper. You never really know and then he can turn it on game days and make plays for you.''

Bears, Jay Cutler bracing for big test vs. Giants

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Coming off an impressive performance against the Washington Redskins in his 2012 preseason debut, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is looking merely to ''continue on the same path we're on'' in Saturday's ''dress rehearsal'' preseason game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.

''You want to convert third downs, keep scoring when we get into the red zone,'' Cutler said at his weekly press conference Monday at Halas Hall. ''We want to eliminate turnovers, get big plays with the passing game and running game. Just keep executing.''

Cutler acknowledged it will be a key test for the offensive line. The Giants sacked Cutler nine times and knocked him out of the game in the first half of a regular-season game in 2010.

"I don't think anyone else in the league has five, six guys ... they rotate in that can play like those guys, so it's going to be a tough test for them,'' Cutler said. ''We're going to try and help them out as much as possible. But at the end of the game we'll have a pretty good idea on what we have up front.''

Phil Emery on Lovie Smith: "What's not to like?"

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Bears general manager Phil Emery already has a history with coach Lovie Smith. As a scout for the Bears, Emery was on Jerry Angelo's staff from 1998 to 2004. His final season -- before heading to the Atlanta Falcons as a college scouting director -- was Smith's first as Bears coach.

"I got to know him and really gained an appreciation for him during that draft process," Emery said of Smith. "He's everything that he was then. He's extremely earnest person. He loves people. He loves players, and they love him. He has a scheme, and a system and a plan. I mean, what's not to like?

"He's been a demonstrated winner. Great stability, great family, players love playing for him," Emery said. "He's the best recruiter in the NFL, when it comes to the unrestricted free agents, and college free agents. You have Lovie call them, and you know they're going to be interested in becoming a Bear."

Jason Campbell, in fact, told me as much. Campbell still had prospects of becoming a starter, but he didn't want to wait and miss a chance to join Smith's team.

Bears president Ted Phillips made clear to GM candidates that Smith would remain for at least the 2012 season. After that, Emery can choose who will be the head coach. Some NFL general managers prefer to have "Their Guy," resistant to inheriting someone at that key position.

Does that matter to Emery?

"No, not at all. I'm more caught up in the person that Lovie is, and he's a guy I want to be around," Emery said. "That's the key. I want to be around him, and, as I told him, 'I want to do my part for you, so we can all be successful.'

"To me, it's about helping him have the right players on the field, that are going to match his schemes and allow him to coach to his full efficiency, so we can win on the field.

"I feel very fortunate. I don't know why anybody would look at that as a negative. As a first-time GM, having been through several coaching changes as a scout and as a coach, I know how disruptive that is. You can't ever be afraid to make a change, if you know it's going to be disruptive. However, I think I walked into a very good situation with Lovie Smith as our head coach. I mean, he's a dean in the NFL for a reason. You don't stay as long as you, at any one club if there aren't a lot of high quality attributes as a person that allows you to still be competing and working toward victories."

J'Marcus Webb has been a lightning rod player for the Bears.

On the one hand, he's been a bargain, a seventh-round pick who has started 28 games, including all 16 last season. On the other hand, he's played at a sub-par level at one of the most important positions on the football field, protecting the blindside of quarterback Jay Cutler.

In a Q&A with Bears general manager Phil Emery, I asked him about Webb coming out of West Texas A&M and what he sees from the left tackle now.

"Well, my first exposure to him was at the Cactus Bowl," Emery said. "I had a chance to talk to him there and watch him perform. I see a player that is obviously gifted genetically. He has all the prerequisite athletic tools and body size that you're looking for at that position. That prerequisite is very hard to find, so you want to be very patient with that person who possesses those tools because there are 32 staring left tackles. There are probably 20 or less - or half or less - that qualify as a consistent, good, NFL left tackle. A starter.

"So you're going to be patient. That's what we're doing. We're being patient with J'Marcus, and we want to see him develop because of those tools, and what we're looking for is, we see him do it, and we want to see him do it with consistency."

Yes, Webb has the tools. But, many athletes have had the tools to be successful but never fulfill that potential. I'm not saying that's the case with Webb. But, he has yet to show consistency, and he doesn't exactly play a position where you can afford for him to grow into the position. A blown block could result in a major injury to Cutler, since Webb is responsible for the quarterback's blindside.

On Saturday, Webb played a fairly solid game. Now, the real test comes: the New York Giants. New York Jets offensive tackle Wayne Hunter reportedly gave up four sacks against the Giants, so this will be a great, great test for Webb and the rest of the Bears offensive line.

Bears rookie wide receiver continued his impressive preseason with three receptions for 62 yards -- including a 16-yard pass from Jay Cutler to the 1-yard line that set up the Bears' first touchdown in Saturday night's 33-31 victory over the Washington Redskins. But he also learned a lesson: The guy who retaliates always gets the penalty.

Jeffery was called for unnecessary roughness when he was caught retaliating in a scrap with Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall after an eight-yard run by Matt Forte in the first quarter. Hall aggressively fended off Jeffery's block and Jeffery responded by swiping at Hall's head, inadvertently pulling Hall's helmet off.

''I'll just walk away next time and go back to the huddle,'' Jeffery said.

Jeffery said coaches told him to ''just play smarter.'' But they had to like the aggressiveness the rookie showed in battling Hall.

''It was just part of the game. Just playing physical,'' the 6-3, 217-pound Jeffery said. ''Everyone's going to go at you and give you their best shot. We were both in the moment and going at each other. I knew it was going to be a penalty.''

Gould shares credit with backup unit on 57-yard FG

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There aren't too many plays in the final minutes of an NFL preseason game that ultimately matter, but Robbie Gould's winning field goal is one of them. A 57-yard field goal is a 57-yard field goal no matter how many reserves who won't make either team are on the field.

But Gould, the most accurate kicker in team history and the fifth most accurate in NFL history, said he didn't need a long kick in the preseason to prove he can kick them when it counts. He was 6-of-6 on 50-plus field goal attempts last season and is 11-of-13 in the past three seasons after going 0-for-2 in his first four years in the NFL.

''It doesn't really matter to me. This is my eighth year,'' Gould said. ''I'm just glad to get the opportunity and glad we made it. Everyone did a great job. It was a lot of fun.''

Jay Cutler on o-line: "We challenged them all week"

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler caught a break, when coach Lovie Smith didn't play him in the season opener.

The Bears allowed six sacks.

On Saturday, Cutler stayed clean, and he completed seven of 13 passes for 122 yards. When he left the game, the Bears were up 17-0.

"We challenged them all week, challenged them before the game," Cutler said of the offensive line. "Everything starts with them. Whenever those guys are playing and doing their job, it's going to let us do our job. That was the biggest difference from the first preseason game to the second preseason game. When they do that, we have a lot of weapons outside. We just got to get them the ball."

J'Marcus Webb started at left tackle, and he appeared to play well.

"I definitely think that I improved this week," he said, "and I definitely feel like I have to continue to do that."

Adam Podlesh shooting to return by season opener

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Add another player who is targeting a return for the season opener.

Adam Podlesh, who has had a strong preseason, suffered a hip flexor on Washington Redskins receiver Brandon Banks' 91-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he should be "OK," but the punter will get an MRI Sunday morning.

"I just felt a little something there," Podlesh said of trying to cut the angle of Banks. "I plan on being back Week 1. From what I've heard so far, it seems pretty positive.

"We'll rehab it until Week 1, and we should be good.''

Podlesh noted that it's not his kicking leg.

"That's a positive," he said. "If it was it would be a little tougher to do my motion, obviously. So that's another positive.''

Ryan Quigley, a rookie from Boston College, is the only other punter on the roster. He averaged 41.5 yards per punt Saturday night, with a long of 44 yards. Podlesh's longest punt was 51 yards.

Podlesh is also the holder for kicker Robbie Gould, but Quigley didn't have any disastrous holds Saturday night. He was holding when Gould kicked the game-winning 57-yarder.

If the Bears opted to bring in a veteran, there's one familiar face: Brad Maynard. According to The Sideline View, Maynard is one of the best available veteran punters, along with Daniel Sepulveda, Matt Turk, Jason Baker and Chris Bryan.

UPDATE: Podlesh wrote on his Twitter account: "Thanks for all the tweets guys. I will be back on the field ASAP!"

Bears encouraged about Brandon Hardin after scare

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Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin was carted off the filed with a neck injury and transported to a local hospital for tests Saturday night.

Initial indications are that Hardin didn't suffer a major injury, and he's got full use of his extremities.

"Whenever you see a player taken off on a stretcher, it's not a good thing. We think Brandon Hardin will be OK," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's moving everything. He's alert, and conscious throughout."

Hardin was injured early in the third quarter, when he appeared to lead with his head while trying to tackle Washington Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen after a 19-yard catch. Paulsen is listed at 6 foot 5, 261 pounds.

Players immediately waved over team medical officials, and coach Lovie Smith also came near the young player. Hardin was placed on a flat board, placed on a cart and transported to a hospital for further tests.

"It comes with the territory, and you hope it doesn't happen to anyone, especially one of your teammates. It's a tough thing," Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "I haven't heard the prognosis or anything, but you never want to see a guy carted off the field, and not walking off on his own will. Hopefully, he gets real and has a speedy recovery.''

Later in the third quarter, Hardin was ruled out of the game with a neck injury.

A third-round pick, Hardin missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury. During training camp, he showcased his unique combination of size (6 foot 3, 217 pounds) and speed, as well as his background as a cornerback.

UPDATE: ''Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers," Hardin wrote on his Twitter page. "I can't give an exact update, but the good news is that I'm gonna be ok. And we won!"

Jay Cutler gave Bears fans every reason to be optimistic in his first game of the preseason Saturday night at Soldier Field.

Cutler threw a 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall on the Bears' first offensive play as the Bears' first-team offense drove 81 yards on eight plays in less than three minutes as the Bears took a quick 7-0 lead against the Washington Redskins.

The opening drive was almost everything the Bears' "explosive" offensive is purported to be this season. Cutler hit Marshall for a 20-yard gain, then connected with rookie Alshon Jeffery on a 16-yard gain to the Redskins' 1-yard line. On first-and-goal, running back Michael Bush followed Tyler Clutts, Kyle Adams and Roberto Garza and went into the end zone virtually untouched for a 7-0 lead. Even in the best of times, it might have taken two or three cracks at it in recent years.

Redskins game crucial for Bears left tackles

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Chris Williams figures to get more playing time with the starters at left tackle Saturday against the Washington Redskins.

But the veteran isn't changing his mindset at all.

"I'm the same guy," Williams said. "I'm going to go out and play hard and let everything set itself up the way it's going to."

Williams downplayed it being a second chance but added, "it's a chance for me to go out and win a starting job, which I've been trying to do all along.

"I'm just going to go out and play hard and let it sort itself out."

Well, if Williams is serious about winning the job, then he should get more serious about how he performs on Saturday night. Starter J'Marcus Webb hasn't had a great training camp but neither has Williams. As soon as possible, teams want to firm up their starting lineups, so they can really build the continuity in the final weeks before the regular season.

It would stand to reason that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice will give both players a chance to face Brian Orakpo, who has 28 ½ sacks the last three seasons. Tice will also probably put those tackles in one on one situations, to see how they fare.

The Bears hope Jay Cutler survives.

Bears starters and captains Jay Cutler and Roberto Garza are getting serious about the 2012 season. But, the two teammates made some time to star in a commercial for the 2012 NFL Women's Apparel line.

And, frankly, they do a fairly solid job. I don't want to give away the commercial or the ending, so check it out for yourselves, and weigh in on how they fared.

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Nick Roach had a scope and returned in weeks

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Bears linebacker Nick Roach isn't at all concerned about Brian Urlacher returning in time for the season opener.

In 2010, Roach underwent a scope in his left knee in the last week of August and returned in time for the season opener two and a half weeks later.

"I had some loose cartilage moved around, and I was good to go after that," Roach said. "It took a couple weeks for me. It's been good ever since.''
 
Asked if he had any concern that Urlacher would miss more than a couple weeks, Roach said, "No, I don't have any fear in that at all.''

Roach had been dealing with discomfort in his left knee, and he underwent surgery but returned in time for the 2010 season opener against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 12. Roach and the team decided it would be better to miss a few weeks than play less than 100 percent for the whole season.

Lance Briggs would prefer fellow linebacker Brian Urlacher were on the field alongside him during training camp. But, Briggs suggested it was better for Urlacher to deal with the injury now, as opposed to later when the games actually count.

"He's a competitor, and in his heart, he wants to be out on the field, playing football with the rest of us. It really tears at him that he can't do that right now. But, it's a long season - a very long season - and we have 16 games to get into the playoffs, in order to get ourselves into a position to play in the Super Bowl and win the thing," Briggs said. "That's what we have to keep in perspective, what's most important."

Briggs and other players tried to maintain an optimistic look at Urlacher's left knee scope. The hope is that he will return in time for the Sept. 9 regular season opener against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field. Briggs said the injury gives the players behind Urlacher quality reps and opportunities.

"Nick's done well, as good as anyone could do right now, with Brian being out. He's played the position before, and he's comfortable in the position," Briggs said. "I think from our defensive unit, he gets us all aligned and playing well and he's very stout and smart. He knows where he needs to be."

Briggs added that he doesn't feel any added pressure to step up his leadership, given Urlacher's role as the leader of the defense.

"I just need to be me. Whatever leadership comes along with me being me is what I'm going to do. We're already leaders," Briggs said. "We lead in our own way, and that's what we'll continue to do."

The agent for Julius Peppers called the possible leak of his client's college transcript "irresponsible" and defended the Bears defensive end's academic background at the University of North Carolina.

"As his former academic advisor, I know what his academic experience was at the University of North Carolina," said Carl Carey, who was an academic advisor at UNC then became Peppers' agent. "So Julius and I are not concerned at all, with issues about courses or any of that.

"People, unfortunately, are trying to link a decades old transcript to some issues that are going on now and that's irresponsible."

The university said it was investigating how what appears to be a transcript for Peppers surfaced on its website. The link was removed and the university said it wouldn't discuss the student information, which is protected by federal privacy laws.

There were questions because some of Peppers highest grades were in classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. But Carey said that was Peppers' major.

"While Julius was a student at the University of North Carolina, the courses he took were in line with his academic major," Carey said. "And it s legitimate major, and some of the grades he received in some of the African American studies department were satisfactory and others of those were challenging for Julius.

"Anybody who sees his actual record will some success in the major and some challenges. We have no concern at all about the quality of the courses he took."

Carey said Peppers has expressed an interest in completing his degree from North Carolina, at some point, and that he has about a year and a half of study remaining.

But, Carey said he and Peppers are disturbed that very private information might have become public.
"It still hasn't been verified that it is, in fact, his transcript," Carey said. "But, if indeed it is a partial record of his personal academic work, then it is definitely a privacy violation and FERPA issue."

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives states the flexibility to share data to ensure that taxpayer funds are invested wisely in effective programs. But, parents and students trust that the education data is properly safeguarded and used "only for legitimate purposes and only when absolutely necessary," ED.gov.

Mike Tice re-opens LT battle between Webb, Williams

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If the Bears weren't at Olivet Nazarene University, there might be a two-drink minimum for Mike Tice's press conferences. Outside of Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall, the Bears' offensive coordinator is the most entertaining facet of training camp.

Of course, Tice has a big advantage, being a tell-it-like-it-is guy on a staff dominated by soft-spoken coaches who say little, reveal nothing and offend nobody. It's like he's following Pauly Shore at the comedy club.

At the very least, Tice acknowledges reality as well as any coach on the staff. He doesn't throw anybody under the bus. But he knows that every so often he has to at least nudge somebody in its path. He sees the same game we do.

Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who was having one of the strongest training camps, had a setback Saturday, suffering a mid-ankle injury.

On Sunday, he didn't practice, while wearing a walking boot.

"I mean, you know, it is what it is, it's football," Paea said. "I wish I never got hurt, but just got to stay on top of it and come back."

Paea said the estimate is that he'll miss a week to two weeks.

"It's a competition everyday," said Paea, who was battling with Matt Toeaina to start. "As far as I see it, I come back and I've got to compete for it again.

"I just have to get my mind right. I've worked too hard for this, and it comes down to in camp you get hurt. I'll just play it by ear and see how it feels."

Brian Urlacher: 'I'll be ready' for Bears' opener

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Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has missed the last seven practices at training camp with a sore left knee, said he does not know when he will return to practice but will start in the Bears' regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts.

''Sept. 9 -- I'll be ready to play for sure,'' Urlacher said Sunday after lunch at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais when asked if he had a timetable for his return. ''That's all that matters to me. Preseason games and all these practices -- I'd love to be out there. But I'm not going to put myself in jeopardy of missing the first game.''

Brian Urlacher injury might require 'D-Rose' approach

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The Brian Urlacher situation remains extremely fluid at Bears training camp. Urlacher and the Bears either don't know what's wrong with his left knee or don't want to say.

Either way, it's a problem, as Lovie Smith's dismissive responses earlier in the week (''Brian is going to be our Mike linebacker this season'') have given way to virtual silence (''Knee is sore. He's been out for personal reasons. That's all we're going to talk on the subject,'' Smith said Saturday).

No longer are we hearing that there's nothing to worry about. Not that anybody was heeding Smith's contention that we were making too much of Urlacher's absence. Last Sunday, Nick Roach said, ''Brian will be fine. He's the last guy you have to worry about being ready to play.'' Two days later he told Bears sideline reporter Zach Zaidman, ''Like everybody else, I'm hoping and praying that he's healthy enough to come back.'' That seemed like an early indication there was something to worry about.

Brian Urlacher returned to Bears training camp, but he didn't practice with his teammates at Bears training camp.

Excused for personal reasons for a week, including Thursday night's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos, Urlacher returned to Olivet Nazarene University on Saturday and rejoined his teammates. Urlacher, who hasn't practiced since July 31, didn't speak to reporters after practice.

In addition, Bears coach Lovie Smith did not provide a timetable for his return.

"Brian Urlacher is back, after he's taken care of some business," Smith said. "It's good to get him back on the practice field, even though he isn't practicing yet. He still has some soreness with the knee. We'll continue to monitor it.

"Exactly when he'll be back, I can't tell you that."

The Bears, though, are thin at the position.

Roach is currently filling in for Urlacher but young backup Dom DeCicco pulled his groin muscle and will be on the "shelf for a while," Smith said.

The Bears signed linebackers Xavier Adibi and K.C. Asiodu on Saturday, as well as defensive end Aston Whiteside. To make room for those players, the Bears waived defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron and cornerback Jeremy Ware and placed defensive end Alex Brown on the reserve/ retired list.

The Bears on Saturday signed three defensive players, including a former fourth-round pick.

With Brian Urlacher out for a week and Dom DeCicco sidelined, the Bears are thin at linebacker.

The Bears added linebackers Xavier Adibi and K.C. Asiodu, as well as defensive end Aston Whiteside. To make room for those players, the Bears waived defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron and cornerback Jeremy Ware and placed defensive end Alex Brown on the reserve/ retired list.

Adibi was a fourth round pick of the Houston Texans in the 2008 NFL Draft. He's appeared in 38 games with eight starts. Last season, he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He has 55 career tackles, forced two fumbles and also has a fumble recovery. He's also had 13 special teams tackles.

Asiodu has appeared in 11 NFL games with the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints, racking up nine special teams tackles. He spent the 2011 preseason with the Green Bay Packers but was released before the regular season started.

Whiteside, who played at Abilene Christian University, was an undrafted free agent recently released by the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears practice at 2 p.m. today.

With his intriguing combination of size, speed, versatility and instincts, Brandon Hardin looks like he belongs in the NFL.

What role he'll play, how productive he'll be and how soon he'll get there is yet to be determined. He could be another Brendan Ayanbadejo or a bigger, better Mike Brown. But he looks like he'll be here for awhile.

Hardin, the Bears' third-round pick from Oregon State, didn't make a particular huge impression in his NFL debut in the Bears' 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field on Thursday night. He had a pass defense that could have been an interception. He missed a few tackles. But he didn't feel or look out of place.

''I played like a rookie,'' said Hardin, playing in his second game since the end of the 2010 season after suffering a separated shoulder during preseason training at Oregon State last year. ''Everything was moving very fast. [But] I definitely learned. Getting that first game under my belt was definitely good.

Even the film won't tell much about the Bears' 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos in their preseason opener at Soldier Field on Thursday night.

With key starters out, neither team showing anything more than vanilla looks on offensive and defense; reserves playing against reserves, replacement officials and inclement weather, the game was a colossal waste of time. It was the best argument for a two-game preseason I've seen yet.

The Bears and Broncos would have gotten more out of a live scrimmage in Bourbonnais than the shadow boxing they did Thursday night. I'd pay more to watch China vs. South Korea in Olympic badminton. Charles Tillman had a better workout in the Pro Bowl.

The NFL insists on calling these "preseason" games rather than "exhibition" games, but neither would be an accurate description of Thursday night's Bears-Broncos games. It was a "practice game" at best. "Glorified scrimmage" was more like it.

Be that as it may, here are 10 observations from the Bears' "exhibition" opener:

1. Jay Cutler didn't get hurt.

2. Why are NFL teams so afraid to show ''too much too soon? How good is a game plan, a scheme or a play if the element of surprise is so critical to its success? Is it that hard to devise enough plays and wrinkles that opponents won't know what to expect?

What not to look for in Bears' preseason opener

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Preseason openers are for amusement only.

The last time the Bears scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the preseason -- in 1994, when Erik Kramer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to fullback Merrill Hoge -- they botched the extra-point. There's always something.

As it turned out, neither Kramer nor Hoge were out of the picture by midseason. Kramer suffered a separated shoulder and later was benched after the disastrous Halloween debacle against the Packers. Hoge wasn't even around for that. He suffered two concussions in the first five games and retired in mid-October.

Brian Urlacher missed his sixth consecutive practice, and Bears coach Lovie Smith seems to be tiring of the constant questions about his star middle linebacker.

"I know a lot of you are asking about Brian Urlacher," Smith said. "He's been excused again for personal reasons. When we have more information, Brian will be our Mike linebacker this year and those kinds of other things out there."

Mike is another name for middle linebacker. Sam is another name for strongside linebacker, and Will is another name for the weakside spot.

Asked about the depth at the position, Smith said, "We like our depth.

"Nick Roach is our backup Mike linebacker. He had an outstanding day yesterday. Nick has played good, winning football for us around here. Dom DeCicco has played, it's a great opportunity for younger guys like Dom to get reps. During the course of the year you have injuries. Training camp is a great time to develop some of that depth."

Asked if Roach could play middle linebacker in the future, Smith said, "Brian is going to be playing it full time.

"Nick is a great Sam and if we need him to play Mike, he'll be able to fill in."

It's somewhat alarming that Urlacher has missed six practices in a row. But, he knows Smith's defense better than any other player, and the Bears are wise to err on the side of caution.

What's the upside of rushing him back?

Ideally, Urlacher does need to get on the field during the preseason, but he can afford to miss time at training camp. The goal, of course, should be to get him fully healthy and try to get him some snaps in a preseason game or two.

It's the age-old problem with training camp practices: when Lance Briggs intercepts Jay Cutler, is that a good play by the defense? Or a bad play by the offense?

We'll get an indication Thursday night when the Bears play the Denver Broncos in their preseason opener at Soldier Field (7:30 p.m., Fox-32). But for now you have to take it for what it's worth that Briggs, Nick Roach and D.J. Moore had red-zone interceptions of Cutler in Monday's practice. Cutler responded by throwing a red-zone touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, who made a "go-up-and-get-it" catch that will look great on Sundays. But his prime victim on the play was rookie cornerback Isaiah Frey.

The defense also had a takeaway when Tim Jennings recovered a fumble by Matt Forte. But, as Bears sideline reporter Zach Zaidman pointed out, a fumble by Forte is ''so rare.'' Then again, so is a fumble recovery by Tim Jennings. But why quibble in training camp?

To the naked eye, the Bears' offensive and defensive lines seem to be making progress -- if it's possible for both to happen in the same practice. Whether or not the Bears are ready for a real game against somebody other than their teammates, it appears they could use the outside competition. Things should pick up considerably next week after playing the Broncos.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice doesn't look like he'll make any changes at either offensive tackle spot.

"As far as left tackle and right tackle is concerned," Tice said, 'we're going to go with [J'Marcus] Webb and [Gabe] Carimi for now. Gabe's knee is really coming around, and we're going to still evaluate the games and if one guy in the backup role steps up and has a great game, then we'll revaluate that.

"But for now we're going to put those five guys in there and let them work together and see if they can gel."

Not such a ringing endorsement.

And there's more.

So what's he liked about Webb?

"Like I said, nobody's really stepped out," Tice said.

Asked if he's more or less optimistic about the offensive line, Tice said, "Well first and foremost, we're going to scheme.

"I'm an offensive line coach. We're going to make sure we're not embarrassing anybody or hurting our quarterback. I'm very comfortable with all the schemes we have, probably all of our protections in, some new protections that we've installed and also one or two more we're going to look at next week and we'll be fine.

"Because we're going to be able to have schemes where if we have a guy that we're not matching up well against, we're going to make sure that guy has two guys on him throughout the course of the game. So that's just the way it's going to be."

As for what he's looking for in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos, Tice said he wants a "clean" game."

"I like to minimize the offsides," he said. "We'll probably get some holding calls in there. But that happens. No turnovers. Minimize the offsides. No delay-of-games. See if we can run the ball efficiently. And finish some drives. Little rhythm."

Bears release ''unofficial'' depth chart

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It's a cardinal sin in the news business to report that there's no news, but the insatiable appetite of Bears fans for anything Bears-related compels us to breathlessly relay the news that there are no surprises on the "unofficial" depth chart released by the Bears on Monday. Unless you thought rookie Evan Rodriguez should be ahead of second-year tight end Kyle Adams or that rookie Tyler Hendrickson should be ahead of Cory Brandon at third-team right tackle.

Here are the "highlights":

Devin Thomas' sudden departure from the Bears wasn't a major jolt -- he was on the roster bubble to begin with -- but the Bears easily adjusted on the fly by signing former Bear Rashied Davis on Monday.

Davis, 33, who played six seasons with the Bears before signing with the Detroit Lions in 2012, figures to make a seamless transition despite joining the team two weeks into camp. In fact, he'll likely be more acclimated to what the Bears are doing than Thomas was -- certainly on special teams -- within a day or two in camp.

''I'm extremely excited. I can't wait to get back on the field,'' Davis told a crowd of reporters Monday morning outside the lunch room at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

The Bears signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting linebacker Geno Hayes to push Nick Roach at strongside linebacker. But Roach not only has to keep his own job, he's filling in for Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.

Roach, a five-year veteran from Northwestern, isn't worried about having to replace Urlacher.

''Brian will be fine,'' Roach said. ''He's the last guy you have to worry about being ready to play.''

The weather was tolerable, but players were filtering in and out of practice on Sunday at Olivet Nazarene University.

Several warmed up then were rested for practice, most notably defensive end Julius Peppers. Meanwhile, Brian Urlacher missed his fourth session with knee soreness.

"Held Brian Urlacher out again," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Hopefully, we'll get him back out here before too long. But, we'll take our time with Brian. We know what he can do."

Eric Weems was able to do some warming up, but he's not ready, Smith said, and linebacker Jabara Williams has a hurt hamstring and didn't practice. Matt Forte missed some time with a thumb injury, and Earl Bennett was nursing a calf injury.

But Dane Sanzenbacher capitalized on Bennett's absence, catching several passes from Jay Cutler.

"Big impression," Smith said of Sanzenbacher. "Same type he made last year, coming in as an undrafted free agent and earning a spot on the roster. He has a role, what he can do. Quick receiver in the slot. Shows up every day. He's a good football player."

Meanwhile, Smith said he was "surprised" when he learned that Devin Thomas was retiring.

"But, you don't want a guy out here, if he's not totally into football and he doesn't have a passion to play it," Smith said. "So, it's not like I try to talk guys out of it, when they've made up their mind."

Bears receiver Devin Thomas is retiring

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Receiver Devin Thomas, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason, has notified the team that he is leaving, according to a team spokesman.

On his verified Twitter account, Thomas said he is retiring. A source confirmed that Thomas, 25, is planning to retire.

"God has blessed me [with] achieving a childhood dream," Thomas also wrote on Twitter. "I want to give back to my hometown and coach/ mentor kids so they can reach their own."

A second-round pick of the Washington Redskins out of Michigan State, Thomas has posted modest numbers in his career. He has 43 career catches for 482 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, as part of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Thomas has three catches for 37 yards.

More importantly, though, Thomas had two fumble recoveries on special teams against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.

There was no assurance that he'd make the Bears, given serious competition at the bottom of the depth chart, behind Brandon Marshall, rookie Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester. Eric Weems was also signed, although primarily as a special teamer, and Dane Sanzenbacher and undrafted rookie Brittan Golden have also had strong camps.

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who hasn't masked his excitement about joining the Bears, fired up those in attendance at Family Fest Friday night.

After answering a couple of questions after practice over Soldier Field's public address system, Marshall playfully told the crowd, "This is just between us, so keep it here."

Then, he said, "Super Bowl," before stepping away from the mic.

The crowd, which was tallied at 27,352, exploded with cheers.

And why not?

Marshall had gotten the crowd hyped with his play during the session, making the sort of catches that have been rare sights for receivers in Bears uniforms in recent seasons. With Lance Briggs and Chris Conte on him tight, Marshall still managed to catch a laser from Jay Cutler in the back of the end zone.

Bears offense shines at Family Fest

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One of the weak links of the Bears last season was red-zone offense.

So far in training camp, the Bears look much, much better. During practice Friday night at Soldier Field -- with 27,352 fans in attendance -- Jay Cutler looked sharp in the red zone. At one point, he was five-for-five on passes, including a perfect touchdown to receiver Brandon Marshall. He led Marshall, who was defended by safety Chris Conte and linebacker Lance Briggs, toward the goal post. The ball zipped just over Briggs' arm.

The window was small, and Marshall had to make a tricky catch.

It's hard to be critical of the way Conte and Briggs defended the play. It's one of those plays where you just have to tip your hat to the quarterback for making a brilliant throw and the receiver for making a touch catch.

Cutler also completed passes to Matt Forte and Michael Bush.

Asked if there are more red-zone weapons, Smith said, "There are.

"You start off with our receivers. A lot of time it comes down to a jumpball down there. Alshon Jeffery, good height. Of course Brandon Marshall, Kellen Davis, we've got some good players that can make plays down there. And once you get down there you need to get touchdowns.

"That's why we spent a lot of time down there [Friday night].''

Here are some other practice observations:

* Conte did well to break up a Cutler pass for Earl Bennett in the middle of the field.

* Undrafted rookie James Brown got most of the second-team snaps at left tackle and fared well against rookie defensive end Shea McClellin in one-on-one drills.

* Matt Toeaina got some first-team snaps at nose tackle, while newcomer Geno Hayes filled in at strongside linebacker with Nick Roach swinging over to middle linebacker. Brian Urlacher missed another day of practice because of knee soreness. Smith said he expects Urlacher back this week.

* Special teams looked outstanding, with Robbie Gould making field goals and Earl Bennett scoring on a punt return. Devin Thomas also appeared to score on a kickoff return.

* The field was in perfect condition. Remarkably, the sod hasn't been changed since the end of the season.

Bears Thursday Practice Report

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With their seven training camp practice (fifth in pads), the Bears moved a day closer to their preseason opener next Thursday, which is about the only definitive thing you can say about any training camp practice at this point. Here are some highlights of Thursday's practice:


1. Shea McClellin takes a step forward.

The rookie defensive end from Boise State had his most impressive practice yet, making a leaping interception of a Jason Campbell screen pass in 11-on-11 drills and winning his share of pass-rush battles. When the Bears put their second- and third-team players in a live-contact drill at the end of practice, they threw starter J'Marcus Webb at left tackle and McClellin clearly beat him for a virtual sack on Webb's first play.

In the first six practices, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams took turns starting at left tackle.

It appeared today would be Williams' turn, but Webb lined up there for a second consecutive day. In addition, Gabe Carimi got a lot of rest, with Williams filling in with the ones, and undrafted rookie James Brown got the bulk of the snaps as the backup left tackle.

Afterwards, coach Lovie Smith downplayed the move, saying his staff is trying different combinations at several positions.

Williams and Brown found out just before practice.

"Coach told me to get some work at right tackle," Williams said. "I just do what I'm told."

Asked if he's not reading too much into it, Williams said, "It's like Day 3 of training camp, man."

A look at Bears depth chart at linebacker

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I've gotten some questions regarding the strongside linebacker position, specifically if Geno Hayes is pushing Nick Roach.

At the moment, Roach is running with the starters, and his backup is J.T. Thomas, a sixth-round pick last year who was placed on IR before the season. Brian Urlacher is being backed in the middle by Dom DeCicco, and Hayes is behind weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.

That's not to say, at some point, Hayes could swing over.

For Thomas, though, he's just happy to be back on the field.

"It's just good to be back on the field at full speed, seeing things, getting reps," he said. "That's the best experience. Being able to watch and being able to participate are two different things."

Thomas said last year was the first in 15 or 16 years he hadn't played football.

"Even when I redshirted back at West Virginia I at least practiced," he said. "So it was a little weird getting back on the field, knocking the rust off."

Thoma also understands that contributing on special teams is essential for him. Blake Costanzo, a linebacker primarily signed for his special teams talents, has flashed some positives at linebacker.

Judging from inherently deceiving training camp practices, there's no doubt that rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery can do great things this season if the Bears can get the ball in his hands -- or just near them.

''He's got unbelievable hands -- an unbelievable ability to catch the football,'' wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said.

If NFL football was as simple as ''You run a down-and-out; You run a button-hook; you go deep'' it would be all good for Jeffery. Unfortunately, there's a lot more to it than that. And that's where even gifted receivers hit the wall as rookies. You still have to beat press coverage from defensive backs. And you still have to get open, which in most NFL offenses entails knowing not only what you are doing, but what every other receiver in your offense is doing.

Bears OC Mike Tice raises the bar for offense, line

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There's no telling if the Bears' offense will be as productive as it looks like it can be with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte et al. But from our vantage point in Bourbonnais, it's refreshing to know that offensive coordinator Mike Tice has the same expectations as everybody else in Chicago.

And, better yet, it looks like Tice will publicly hold them to that high standard.

''We want to be good. We want to be better than good,'' Tice said after practice Tuesday. ''We set the bar very high. And if you're going to achieve that, you have to come out here every day and get better at something, and that's all we're asking the guys to do: each day come out and get better at something.

''Including coaches - like on fourth-and-one, I should've run the quarterback sneak. A little greedy in practice, nothing on the line, you're just working your stuff, should've run the quarterback sneak. I'll get better at that and the guys'll get better at their things. So if we all get better at something each day collectively, we're going to make a big jump."

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