Chicago Sun-Times

February 2013 Archives

J'Marcus Webb arrested on drug charges

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As the new coaching staff is assessing the roster, Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb has made a poor early impression.

Webb was arrested in Pulaski County Sunday evening on drug charges, KFVS reported.

"We are aware of the recent arrest of J'Marcus Webb in Pulaski County, Illinois," the Bears said in a statement. "We are currently gathering information to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the arrest."

Webb, who enters the final year of his rookie deal, is currently the starting left tackle, although he's been a lightning rod player. A former seventh-round pick, Webb is charged with possession of controlled substance, cannabis and paraphernalia, according to KFVS.

His next court date is in March.

Manti Te'o posts disappointing 40-yard dash times

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Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o didn't help himself on the field today at Lucas Oil Stadium, running two sluggish 40-yard dashes.

Te'o was clocked at 4.81 and 4.80 in the sprint, which is slower than some projected, given his size. At 6 foot 1, 241 pounds, Te'o isn't blessed with ideal size, so he needed speed and quickness to make up for it. NFL Network draft analyst noted that Te'o was solid in getting up to speed but didn't increase it at the halfway mark of the sprint. Te'o.jpg

Te'o could have greatly helped himself by running around 4.65.

According to NFL Network, last year's inside linebackers ran the 40 in an average time of 4.77 seconds. Meanwhile, the top interior linebacker selected in 2012, Luke Kuechly, ran a 4.58.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's the full transcript from Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's highly anticipated press conference during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field:

Bears could strike gold in search for a linebacker

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Alec Ogletree of Georgia.jpgIt's not unusual for a team like the Bears to interview a prospect they have little or no chance of getting with the 20th pick of the first round of the NFL draft. But the fact that Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones -- projected to go anywhere from fifth overall to 15th in most mock drafts -- listed the Bears as one of the four teams to talk to him Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is at least a little intriguing.

Regardless of Brian Urlacher's status for 2013, the Bears need a linebacker. And more than any other position, the possible selection of a linebacker in the first or second round would tell more about the direction the Bears are going on defense under Mel Tucker than any other position.

With Urlacher and Lance Briggs entrenched as anchors in Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense, the Bears have been content to fill the other spot with a generic, cost-effective strongside linebacker -- Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa. The Bears have never even been tempted to draft a young, dynamic, playmaking linebacker. And they all but gave up on the idea of drafting any linebackers since striking out with Jamar Williams (fourth round in 2006) and Michael Okwo (third-round in 2007).

That figures to change under Marc Trestman. When Tucker said, ''Right now, we're going to be a 4-3 [alignment],'' last week, the operative phrase was ''right now.'' It sure sounded like Tucker has big plans for eventual change, perhaps sooner than later.

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INDIANAPOLIS - It was the second to last question during a 15-minute press conference for Manti Te'o with hundreds of media members at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field on Saturday.

"Are you dating anybody in real life?" a reporter asked.

"No. Not right now," the Notre Dame middle linebacker replied.

Less than two minutes later. it was over. The long-awaited Te'o press conference - one that drew a crowd larger than any other previous players in combine history, according to observers -- was finished.

There were plenty of questions about the fake-girlfriend hoax, and how it may affect his draft status. Te'o said every team he's spoken to has asked him about it.

emeryphil.jpgINDIANAPOLIS -Phil Emery, as expected, was mum when it came to specifically addressing the Bears' needs when he spoke at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Field. But the second-year general manager did expound on his evaluation process.

"The big thing is medical," Emery said. "It's huge in terms of actually getting an NFL read on where these guys are medically. It has a tremendous impact. The interviews are very big. The workouts are important. But if I had to choose between three things, I'd say the interview, the medical are extremely important. The workout gives you a feel for where the guy's preparation is, where his head's at, so it is important. But if I had to rank them, I'd say it's medical, interview and workout."

Garrett Gilkey Senior Bowl.jpgGarrett Gilkey relishes the opportunity to blaze a unique trail to the NFL: from Sandwich High School to Aurora Christian to Chadron State.

But the 6-6, 314-pound offensive tackle comes from a football background that was even more humble and challenging than it appears on paper.

''I was undersized. I was bullied and ostracized by my entire school [at Sandwich High School],'' Gilkey said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. ''Going into my freshman year, I had a heart operation -- very simple. But I was prevented fom playing sports. So I excelled academically.

''With that, some of the guys, especially on the football team and the cliques just kind of distanced themselves from me because I wasn't doing the running in the summer or the workouts. I was booed a few times in front of the entire school, constantly bullied, constantly picked on. I had a very hard year my freshman year at Sandwich.''

INDIANAPOLIS -- While the Bears evaluate college talent at the NFL Combine with certain interests and needs in mind, general manager Phil Emery also made it clear they're interesting in keeping two players they already have.

Defensive lineman Israel Idonije and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott. Both players are unrestricted free agents.

Idonije, 32, has spent in entire career with the Bears, becoming a valuable leader and a blossoming into a consistent threat on the defensive line. He lost his starting spot this season to defensive Corey Wootton, but still saw as many as snaps rotating in at end and defensive tackle. Idonije had 7.5 sacks in 2012.

Jim Harbaugh & Pete Carroll.jpgJim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll don't agree on much. But they both are big fans of Marc Trestman.

The rival coaches have individual histories with the new Bears coach. Carroll and Trestman were assistant coaches under Bud Grant with the Minnesota Vikings in 1985-86 and coordinators for San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert in 1995-96.

At both places, they were on opposite sides of the ball. But Trestman was a mentor for Harbaugh when they were assistant coaches under Bill Callahan with the Oakland Raiders in 2002-03. Trestman was the offensive coordinator and Harbaugh an offensive assistant in his first NFL coaching job.

''He made a life-long impression on me,'' Harbaugh said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. ''I really felt, in a lot of ways, trained by Marc Trestman. And also Bill Callahan. I assisted Marc. Marc was the coach on the staff. I was the assistant to the assistant.

With Trestman and Harbaugh as coaches, Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was the NFL's MVP in 2002 and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl. The Raiders didn't fare as well the following season, but Harbaugh still learned a lot from Trestman.

''I continue to use his system that we learned under him and it's been very good for us. We've had a good track record,'' Harbaugh said. ''A lot of his coaching points, a lot of his ideas, a lot of his teaching. I've benefitted greatly from my experience with Marc Trestman.''

Trestman shares another trait with Carroll and Harbaugh -- the ability to get through to his players. They each do it in different ways, but the effect is similar. They get more out of players than others do. Carroll said he was certain Trestman would be able to work that magic with the Bears.

''Sure he will. There's no question,'' Carroll said. ''He's been doing it for years. He just showed championship style up [in the CFL]. Marc's been a successful coordinator when he's called plays. He'll do a fine job. It will be different for Chicago. He's a different guy than Mike Ditka. Different style. But he's a great teacher and he'll do a tremendous job leading them.''

Harbaugh said Trestman has a special quality as a teacher. It works for him.

''No. 1, he's really knowledgeable. He's got tremendous experience,'' he said. ''But if I had to put one intangible -- it would just be that's he's authentic. He's genuine. All people respond to that.''


INDIANAPOLIS -- Johnny Knox may not have played at all last season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery. But the speedy receiver's retirement this offseason still left the Bears at a loss.

And in a need for help at wide receiver.

To say anything else would be "silly" to Bears general manager Phil Emery. The Bears will look at plenty of offensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field. But don't rule out wide receivers come April's draft or when free agency begins on March 12 even if they have Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett coming back.

Why?

The Bears are expected to finalize a deal with Mike Groh to become the team's receivers coach, according to league sources.

The news was first reported by 247Sports.com. Groh.jpg

Bears coach Marc Trestman said at his press conference Thursday at the NFL Combine that the club would round out their staff by hiring a receivers coach soon.

Groh is the son of Al Groh, the former head coach of the New York Jets and University of Virginia.

Mike Groh starred at Randolph High School in Randolph, New Jersey, and he started at quarterback at UVA, leading the Cavaliers to nine-win seasons and bowl victories in consecutive seasons.

He started his coaching career at Virginia as a graduate assistant and worked his way up to offensive coordinator.

Groh wrapped up his second season as the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide with the national title.

cutler6x.jpgINDIANAPOLIS -- It looks like Jay Cutler is going to have to prove this season that he's the franchise quarterback Bears general manager Phil Emery believes he can be.

Why?

Asked if the Bears had discussed a new deal with Cutler, coach Marc Trestman said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field that he hasn't "discussed any of that with Jay or with Phil up to this point."

Emery declined to go into detail about Cutler's future when asked if his quarterback, who has had many erratic moments throughout his Bears' tenure, has to prove he's worth another contract.

Cutler is entering the final year of his five-year contract with the Bears. He has a base salary of $8.47 million for 2013, but carries a $10.37 million cap hit.

"That is a contract question," Emery said. "We're going to work through that. When there is a decision on that, you'll know, when it comes to that point. Not going to comment on anything involving contracts or future contracts or current contracts or when we're going to decide on those contracts."

It still doesn't bother Emery that Trestman doesn't describe Cutler as a "franchise" quarterback, although he has. Even new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh declined to place that tag on him last week.

Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis still big question marks

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Gabe Carimi vs. Vikes.jpgThe Bears have issues at every spot of their offensive line, including two places where they thought they'd be rock solid by now -- right tackle Gabe Carimi and right guard Lance Louis.

Carimi, the Bears' first-round draft pick (29th overall) in 2011, struggled in his return from major knee surgery as a rookie. He lost his starting job after Week 11 but started three games at right guard and another at right tackle in the final six weeks of the season. Either way, it was an unsettling year for Carimi. The question was whether it was because of the injury or because he just wasn't making enough progress against NFL-caliber defensive linemen.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Carimi's position for the 2013 season is still in question.

Our coaches are going to work through that,'' Emery said when asked what position he saw Carimi playing this season, ''during OTAs, during the winter. Get to know Gabe. Get to know what his strengths and weaknesses are.

''Obviously they've seen some things on tape. I think they see upside to him as a tackle or a guard. So we'll find out through that process and I'm sure that will take all the way through camp to find his exact position.''

The Bears can sell that as a testament to Carmi's new-found versatility. But it's hard to hide it as a disappointment for a former first-round draft pick.

''I do see that he has some flexibility,'' Emery said. ''Gabe had some rough moments. He had some good moments during the year. He had some really good run-blocking moments. He has to improve as a pass blocker. But he had good moments both at guard and at tackle.''

Louis' status could be a key factor in where Carimi winds up. Louis not only is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, but he's also a free agent.

Emery said the team is pleased where Louis is with his rehabilitation, though it remains to be seen if he will be 100 percent by training camp. He suffered the injury Nov. 25 against the Vikings.

''We're going to have to work through that [situation],'' Emery said. ''Lance has been very diligent in his rehab and we're pleased with his progress. So at some point, we'll sit down with his agents and work through that.''

INDIANAPOLIS -- Manti Te'o's notorious catfishing controversy won't scare off the Bears. In fact, general manager Phil Emery said they'll interview the once-praised Notre Dame middle linebacker without directly saying it.

"This will be my 16th draft ... every individual is unique," Emery said when asked about Te'o at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field on Thursday. "Believe me, there are unique stories across every college class. So, is that unique? No. That is a situation and issue that has to be dealt with and worked through. Obviously, at some point we will sit down and talk to the player about it and see where he is at on it.

"That situation, as far as somebody having something that is different than what has happened to other people, I would say that is true with a good portion of this college class. Everyone, each individual is going to be unique and they're going to have their own unique situations with their family that they have had to deal with, off the field, on the field and situations that come up in life. It's about how they handle it. Can they still produce and be a productive member of your team?"

OT Jake Long could add intrigue to free agent market

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Jake Long in Action.jpgFor any NFL team looking for an offensive tackle, Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins is an intriguing proposition.

Long, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft, is a four-time Pro Bowl player who was arguably the best tackle in football in 2009 and 2010. He hasn't been as effective the last two years presumably because of injuries. He suffered a back injury and a torn biceps muscle in 2011. He suffered a torn triceps muscle in 2012.

Two years ago, Long never would have reached the open market. But because of his diminished effectiveness and his desire to still be paid like one of the best tackles in football, there's a good chance Long will be available when free agency opens on March 12.

''We've talked with Jake, we've talked with his representative as well,
we've made our desire to have him back on this football team known,'' Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. ''But that's a tricky one. There's a lot of things that you normally don't have in that particular case, some of the details I don't want to get into, but it's just a complicated
negotiation.''

Shea McClellin 2012.jpgShea McClellin was better at defensive end than a lot of people thought he would be as a rookie last season. But even so, there were many times in 2012 he looked like a better linebacker.

While Lovie Smith's coaching staff was adamant that McClellin was a hand-on-the-ground defensive end, new Bears coach Marc Trestman left open the possibility that McClellin could play another position in defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's defense.

''We've talked about that,'' Trestman said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. ''He has flexibility. He's a tremendous athlete.

''As we put our football team together, we'll work on that. We've had discussions about Shea and all the strengths and his weaknesses. And he's got a lot of strengths and a lot of great things he can do. As Mel and the guys continue to put the defense together, we'll decide collectively what the best place for him to play is.''

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bears general manager Phil Emery was as clear as a general manager can be when it came to addressing the future of Devin Hester at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field on Thursday.

There were no "evaluating" tags attached.

"I would say right now, Devin is our returner," Emery said. "We're looking forward to him working with us in OTA's and seeing how we come with that throughout the fall and through camp."

Bears coach Marc Trestman didn't want to speak specifically about any players, but he called Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton a "great asset."

"But to be specific, we're not going to come out here today and be specific about any player," Trestman said. "He's a valuable member of our football team. Every day, we learn more about putting our football team together, and he's certainly a big part of that." Melton Bench.jpg

Melton earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He's the most obvious Bears candidate to receive the franchise tag, although general manager Phil Emery wouldn't comment on that Thursday at the NFL Combine.

"We'll work through that situation, obviously," Emery said. "We'll be talking to Henry and when we come to a conclusion everybody will know.''

Known for his quickness, Melton is expected to draw a lot of interest in free agency because he's 26 years old, and he's racked up 13 sacks in the last two seasons. The knock on him in his first season as a starter was his run defense, but he improved that in 2012.

The Dallas Cowboys have been among the teams rumored to be interested in him.

54urlacher2.jpgINDIANAPOLIS -- Bears coach Marc Trestman was the first the coach to meet the media Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it didn't take long for the future of Brian Urlacher to be brought up.

Urlacher, the Bears' stalwart at middle linebacker for 14 seasons and a future Hall of Famer, is an unrestricted free agent, who turns 35 in May and has injury concerns. Trestman said the Bears haven't finished their evaluation of him. Free agency officially begins on March 12.

"That's an ongoing process," Trestman said. "We've certainly evaluated our entire football team as much as we can without seeing him work [or] having a chance to spend some formal time with him on the field.

"As me move forward in this process through the combine and through the spring, obviously all these things are going to be resolved. But right now, between [general manager] Phil [Emery] and the personnel department and myself and the coaching department, we continue to talk about these things and process the information. But at this time, we're not going to go any farther than that in our discussions."

New Bears coach Marc Trestman hoped that Rod Marinelli would stay with the team and remain their defensive coordinator. But Marinelli opted to leave to be the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach.

Why?

Because of Lovie Smith, who was fired after nine seasons with the Bears. That's what Marinelli told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Mel Tucker eager to make Bears' elite defense better

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Mel Tucker.jpgAs good as the Bears' defense was last year, Mel Tucker wants to make it better.

That chore might not be as daunting as it might appear. The Bears' defense ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards (316 per game) and second in touchdowns allowed (25). With the nine touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, the Bears' defense had a net of 16 touchdowns allowed in 16 games. That's one per game.

But there is room for improvement. While the Bears were good overall, they really piled on the weaker teams on their schedule. The nine defensive touchdowns came against teams with a composite record of 35-60-1 -- none of whom made the playoffs.

In the second half of the season, the Bears allowed 459 yards against the Seahawks, 391 against the Packers and 353 against the 49ers (249 in the first half of a 32-7 blowout).

New head coach Marc Trestman was firm in stating that the Bears' defense won't change much under Tucker, who was hired as defensive coordinator after spending the last four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

''I think we're going to be very similar to what we have been here,'' Trestman said. ''Mel will add his spin on it because of his input, creating new ideas and new ways of doing things. But essentially the style of play and the type of football we're going to play defensively will not change much.''

Jon Hoke explains why he stayed with Bears

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Jon Hoke didn't need much convincing to remain with the Bears.

And the primary reason was a common one.

"Obviously, my family is here. My two girls are in school here, they're sophomores," Hoke said. "So to me, it was driven by that. The organization has been great to me."

New Bears coach Marc Trestman wanted Rod Marinelli to remain, but the veteran defensive coordinator wanted a fresh start after the organization fired his close friend Lovie Smith.

Asked if he ever considered not returning, Hoke said, "I never had any thoughts at all, one way or another.

"I wanted to see how things played out, see what opportunities were out there."

The decisions, though, are always difficult.

"Those are always hard, because we had a great group of coaches here. Coach Smith was a very good head coach. He was here for nine years," Hoke said. "But change is always hard on everybody."

Hoke interviewed to replace Marinelli, but Trestman instead chose Mel Tucker, who had been the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville.

"They didn't have to do that," Hoke said of granting him an interview. "They wanted to hear what I had to say. Marc was fantastic through it. It was a wonderful experience."

Despite his familiarity with the scheme and personnel, Hoke is trying to lay low, only speaking up when Trestman seeks his input.

"He's done a good job of finding out on his own," Hoke said. "He asked me a little about player evaluations, as much as anything else."

Trestman said he wants the scheme and style to remain the same but that some tweaks are inevitable. Asked about possible changes, Hoke said, "It's hard to say right now.

"We're still in the evaluation process. We're still looking at tape," he said. "We're still looking at players. I couldn't tell you exactly what's going to be the same, what's going to be different. I have no idea."

23hester.jpgFrom saying he's mulling retirement to suggesting that he may need a fresh start somewhere else, there hasn't been a Bears player who has garnered more headlines post-Lovie Smith than star returner Devin Hester.

And Hester remained a hot topic Thursday when the Bears introduced their new coordinators and assistant coaches at the Walter Payton Center.

New Bears head coach Marc Trestman and new special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Joe DeCamillis have both spoken with Hester, who has one year remaining on his contract.

"I have had some contact with him. It was really brief contact," DeCamillis said. "But we just have to evaluate that along with everything else. As you get into a new job, you've got to evaluate everything and that's one of the pieces we definitely have to evaluate."

Marc Trestman still mulling future of Urlacher, Hester

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Trestman presser.jpgNew Bears coach Marc Trestman has had a ''meet-and-greet'' with Jay Cutler, has talked to Brian Urlacher and has shaken Devin Hester's hand. But he's still a long way from knowing who they really are and how they fit into the Bears' plans for 2013.

The Bears held a press conference Thursday at the Walter Payton Center to introduce Trestman's coaching staff. But after four weeks on the job, Trestman said his evaluation of the current roster is not complete and he was not ready to address the status of individual players such as Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester.

''We're not here to really get specific on personnel,'' Trestman said. ''I can tell you that I've spoken to [Hester]. He stopped by. I shook his hand. We had a chance to talk for a few minutes, but we didn't get specific on anything. Just an opportunity to get to know each other and put in concrete what his role would be if he winds up coming back.''

The Bears held a media day of sorts Thursday at the Walter Payton Center to introduce all their new coordinators and assistant coaches.

But one was missing.

Bears coach Marc Trestman is still searching for a wide receivers coach to replace Darryl Drake, who was dismissed not long after Lovie Smith was fired.

54urlacher.jpgBears coach Marc Trestman has been very busy working the phones recently, calling player after player after player as he settles into his new job.

And that includes linebacker Brian Urlacher.

The future of Urlacher is very much uncertain. When asked about Urlacher, Trestman and other coaches often said Thursday at the Walter Payton Center that the organization is currently evaluating personnel and that no decisions have been made.

"The organization is going through that process," Trestman said. "I'm excited to come here because Brian Urlacher has been such an important part of this and I've watched him to play. But again, to talk about where that thing is going would be premature for me to talk about at this time."

Trestman spoke with Urlacher, who was in Arizona, for 30 to 40 minutes over the phone.

"He was great," Trestman said. "We just talked generally about the team and not specifically about his situation. I asked him about the team and our locker room and tried to gather as much information I can to do a better job as we move through the spring."

Johnny Knox: "God has better plans for me"

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Johnny Knox suspected he'd never play football again, but he didn't come to that conclusion until Wednesday morning, the day after the Bears terminated the final year of his contract.

Click here to see the story. Knox.png

When we met Wednesday, I couldn't help imagine being in his position: Achieving his dream then having to abandon it at the age of 26, after a horrific injury that required spinal fusion surgery. Physically, he looked fit, about 12 pounds under his playing weight of 185 pounds. But Knox admitted he wasn't comfortable sitting or standing.

Yet he wasn't the least bit bitter.

How was he staying so positive?

"My whole life, I've always been positive, and people ask me, 'Man, why are you so positive?' I've never looked at things negative. I asked people, 'Is that a bad thing?' They told me, 'Nah, it's a gift.' "

Indeed it is.

If you had to rank the Bears' needs with the NFL Combine next week in Indianapolis and preparations for the 2013 draft in April well underway, it would start with offensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends.

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's longtime draft guru, said he thinks the Bears will look at offensive tackle or tight end in the first round. The Bears hold the 20th overall pick.

According to Kiper, Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) are the top three left tackles and should be selected in the first half of the first round. Kiper, in his latest projections, has the Bears selecting Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker (6-6, 335 pounds) at No. 20.

Johnny Knox appreciates the way Bears treated him

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Johnny Knox harbors no ill feelings toward the Bears after the club terminated his contract, his marketing agent told the Sun-Times Tuesday morning.

"The Bears have been tremendous to him," said Bill Horn, a close friend of Knox's and his marketing agent. "He really appreciates everything they've done for him."

Asked if Knox still plans to play, Horn said, "He's going to explore all his options, but his first priority is obviously his health.

"He appreciates everyone's prayers."

With Knox's contract set to expire in a few weeks, the Bears terminated his deal Tuesday morning.
It's a disappointing end for a promising player. Knox started 27 of 45 games in three seasons (2009-11) with the Bears, hauling in 133 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns. But after suffering a serious back injury against the Seattle Seahawks in December 2011, Knox required surgery and missed the entire 2012 season, spending it on the PUP list.

Knox told the Sun-Times in December that he still wanted to play.

"I know what I can do," Knox told the Sun-Times. "I know what I can contribute out there on the field.
"I'm jus another weapon when I can get back out there."

Knox also said he would "love" to re-sign with the Bears.

But the Bears have decided to move on from the fifth-round pick who appeared in the Pro Bowl in 2009 as a kickoff returner.

Bears sign CB LeQuan Lewis

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The Bears on Monday announced the signing of former Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback LeQuan Lewis.

Undrafted last year out of Arizona State, Lewis has bounced around the league but appeared in three games for the Cowboys then five games for the Bucs. He finished with five tackles and one interception and one pass defense. Lewis_LeQuan.jpg

Lewis, who is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, also added five kickoff returns for 106 yards (21.2 average).

Lewis, 23, is a Los Angeles native.

The Bears are solid at the starting spot with Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. But they need depth, especially with the future of D.J. Moore up in the air.

Ground has been broken, work has begun and, in a few months, the Bears' home in Lake Forest will have a new look to it. Halas Hall is undergoing it's own extreme makeover.

The Bears unveiled their ambitious expansion project for Halas Hall on Monday, which includes adding more than 30,000 square feet to their 100,000 square-foot facility in Lake Forest.

There's no denying that the Bears have outgrown their facility, which was built in 1997. The expansion project is scheduled to conclude by Aug. 1, before the team returns from training camp.

For the players, the Halas Hall expansion project means remodeling their locker room, expanding their weight room and training room by 1,500 square feet and updating or creating new meeting rooms with better technology.

A new dining hall and kitchen will be built. There also will be additional meeting rooms and offices for team staff.

The outdoor practice fields and the Walter Payton Center will not be impacted by the project. In other words, some offseason activities --- such as OTAs and minicamp -- may not be affected by the project.

Marc Trestman still needs a receivers coach on his staff.

And given NFL rules, it's fair to wonder if the Bears were waiting on an assistant from the Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers. John Morton.jpg

The only candidate from the Ravens appears to be Craig Ver Steeg, a senior assistant, but it's believed he's under contract.

On the 49ers staff, John Morton makes the most sense.

He's the current receivers coach, and he certainly deserves credit for the development of Michael Crabtree and other young receivers who have contributed, including Kyle Williams.

And Morton has a tie with Trestman, working with him in Oakland from 2001 to 2003.

Before joining the Niners, Morton was the receivers coach at Southern California for four years.

Two-year deals are fairly standard for position coaches, and Morton just completed his second season. But it's unclear if he received an extension at some point.

Morton originally signed with Oakland as an undrafted rookie wide receiver in 1993. He played at Western Michigan and played in the CFL for a few seasons.

NEW ORLEANS -- Darius Fleming is a South Side kid, through and through. And the St. Rita product is more than proud to represent Chicago's Gresham neighborhood in Super Bowl XLVII.

Fleming, who starred at Notre Dame before being drafted in the fifth round in 2012 by the 49ers, hopes to inspire others from his neighborhood, which has endured its share of shootings.

"This is awesome," Fleming said of being part of the Super Bowl experience. "As a kid growing, you always dream about situations like this. Now, it's a dream come true. For me, I like to do things so I can show that dreams are possible. So for people in my neighborhood who aren't in the best situations, this isn't just a dream for me. This is a dream for everybody else just to show that you can do things like this."

The agent for Devin Hester said Bears officials haven't given he or his client any indication about his future with the club.

"Once the Bears conclude their evaluation of their players and their team, I expect to have discussions about Devin's future," agent Eugene Parker said. "Until they finish that, everything is premature to talk about.

"They haven't even gone through that process. The Bears are doing it a little bit later because they just hired a coach." Hester.jpg

The Chicago Tribune on Saturday quoted Hester as saying he wanted to play two or three more years but that "it might have to take a fresh start somewhere else."

Hester's current contract with the Bears runs through next season, and he's scheduled to make $1.85 million.

After Lovie Smith was fired, Hester was one of the most upset players.

"I'm going to go home and get away from football right now," Hester said at the time. "I don't even know if I want to play again, man. It's [been] on my mind now for two years now."

He also lamented that he has not been "able to showcase my talents the way I wanted."

Asked then if a change of scenery would help, Hester said, "Who knows?

"If it's the right place. If not, I feel like I've done enough in the league to establish myself to be one of the elite players to ever play the game. God blessed me with seven years. The average years of an NFL player is about three. At the same time, I'm a Bear for life. This is where I was born and raised from the start of football."

NEW ORLEANS -- Corey Graham finally found a place where he feel he belongs. After five seasons of being primarily a special-teams player for the Bears, Graham has settled into a starting role for the Ravens.

graham.jpgGraham started 10 games -- including nine in 2008 -- for the Bears from 2007-11. He's started the last 11 games for the Ravens, including three playoff games., and will be their starting cornerback in Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bears tried to re-sign him, but the Ravens were a better opportunity -- financially and for playing time.

"I would ask [Lovie Smith] what I needed to do to get better or show that I needed to be on the field and he would say, 'Corey, you're doing everything that I asked you to do,'" Graham said. "I don't know what the situation was, but he fit me as a special teams (player) and he wanted me to be that, and that's just what it was. I felt like I was playing pretty well when I was there my last two years. I felt like I could have been on the field, but it's a different defense [than the Ravens].

"In Chicago, basically, you have your two corners, you have your nickel, and that's it. It's not a system like here where you sometimes have six defensive backs on the field at the same time and stuff like that. It's a system where they can create packages and put guys in to get you there. In Chicago it's a cover two system. It's simple. You have your exact spots and that's it. When you watch teams like the Ravens and the Jets, you see different guys, different sets, a lot of guys on the field, a lot of defensive backs. I knew in coming to a different system that I'd have the opportunity to show why I should be out there."

NEW ORLEANS -- With his teammates Matt Forte and Tim Jennings in the stands, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman received a special honor Saturday during the NFL Honors in New Orleans.

Tillman was named the 2012 Salute to Service Award winner for his efforts to honor and support the members of the U.S. military.

tillman.jpgDuring the Bears' bye week, Tillman visited Fort Hood in Texas, making donations to critically ill children and their families through "Charles' Locker" program (part of his foundation). At the 2013 Pro Bowl, Tillman and other players visited Schofield Army Barracks to meet soldiers, who recently returned from an extended deployment in Afghanistan.

But his contributions go beyond that and go back years.

After personally contacting the U.S. Army in 2010, Tillman participated in an eight-day USO tour in Iraq and Kuwait. He visited Camp Victory, Camp Buehring and Joint Base Balad, signing photos and sports memorabilia and sharing dinner with troops.

jim.jpg

NEW ORLEANS -- San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh spent the first seven years of his playing career with the Bears after they drafted him out of Michigan with 26th overall pick in 1987.

Harbaugh didn't turn into a franchise quarterback -- he went 35-30 as a starter before joining the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 -- but he valued every minute of his time with the Bears.

Especially because he got to work with Mike Ditka for most of it.

"Those were formidable years for me and signature years to be in Chicago," Harbaugh said Friday during a joint press conference with his brother, John. "To be drafted in the NFL, and play for the legendary Mike Ditka, doesn't get any better than that. I spent seven years - a lot of great years and a lot of great games. A lot of high highs and a lot of low lows. Doesn't get any better than this kind of feeling. In some places, big disappointments. There were a couple that were top-five in my life, but that's football and that's life.

"I look back on that, and what do they mean to me with shaping the rest of my life with the Chicago Bear organization and the people I met there and what the organization and Coach Ditka did for me? I don't think there is a percentage to put on it. Those were signature years for me."

Harbaugh's best season with the Bears came in 1991. The Bears went 11-5, while Harbaugh threw for a career-high 3,121 yards and 15 touchdowns, but had 16 interceptions.

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