Chicago Sun-Times

April 2013 Archives

longeran.jpgP.J. Lonergan has never to been to Chicago. But the center from LSU knows he wants to be in the Windy City for a long time and is ready to work his tail off to accomplish that.

"I'm just excited," Longeran said. "I can't wait to get up there."

Longeran is one 10 rookie free agents the Bears agreed to terms with after the 2013 draft concluded. He's also a player the Bears have had a ton of contact with throughout the draft process.

Longeran will join the Bears' 2013 draft class -- which is led by Oregon guard Kyle Long, Florida linebacker Jon Bostic and Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene -- at rookie minicamp from May 10-12.

"I just thought it was the best situation for me," Longeran told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. "I got contacted by a few teams, but I like the city and i thought it was a good fit."

zachminter.jpgZach Minter, a standout defensive tackle at Montana State, was hoping to get a call from the Bears as Day 3 of the draft unfolded. And Minter actually thought he would when the Bears' seventh-round selection came up.

But his phone didn't ring. Instead, Marquess Wilson, a receiver from Washington State, got the call.

"It was up and down," MInter told the Sun-Times. "It was, 'I think they will call me,' and then, 'I don't know now.' It was such a emotional rollercoaster. I did think they were going to call me when using that seventh-round pick. I honestly believed I was going to get a call. But when I didn't, I wasn't bummed."

Why not?

"I felt all signs pointed to the Bears when they started to show interest," Minter said. "There's a lot of things that excite me about the Bears."

That call finally came from the Bears. It just came a little later than hoped. Minter is one of 10 rookie free agents the Bears agreed to terms with a day after the 2013 draft concluded. Minter also is a player the Bears kept a watchful eye on, starting a week before the draft.

Marquess Wilson In Action (3).jpgThe last question in Marquess Wilson's conference call on Saturday after the Bears selected him in the seventh round of the NFL draft came from Marquess Wilson.

''Do you know when we report?''

If the Bears truly did their due diligence on the wide receiver from Washington State, they know what they're getting -- a raw, 20-year-old kid with a lot of talent and a lot of growing up to do.

The Bears checked out the glaring red flag in Wilson's background -- in 2012, he quit the Washington State football team after nine games because of alleged mental and physical abuse by coach Mike Leach and his staff. And after doing their homework, the Bears concluded it was an isolated incident of immaturity -- nothing that a locker room full of good guys can't correct.

"I wouldn't consider it a red flag,'' Bears coach Marc Trestman said when asked if he had previous experience coaching players with similar red flags as Wilson. ''I consider it a young guy making a very, very small mistake that put him in a position that got him in trouble. I think like any young guy -- I'm a parent, we're parents here -- our kids have made mistakes along the way. He's a good kid with a big upside.

''He's come to the right place because he's come to a locker room where we've got players and coaches that will set him straight right from the beginning and get him going in the right direction. So, it's an exciting opportunity for us to grow a young man, to allow him to mature off-the-field as well as on it. The upside as a talent, we're very excited about it.''

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Bears general manager Phil Emery addressed glaring needs, taking Oregon guard Kyle Long (20th overall), Florida linebacker Jon Bostic (50), Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene (117) and Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Jordan Mills (163). Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington (188) and Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson (263) also were added.

Here's what Emery said about his haul and the draft after Day 3 on Saturday night:

With the 236th pick in the 2013 draft, the Bears wrapped up their new class by taking Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson. He's got plenty of potential, but also comes in with some concerns after he walked out on Washington State this past season.

Here's what he said in a conference call with Chicago media Saturday night:

When general manager Phil Emery left the media behind Saturday after the 2013 draft concluded, he and his staff went quickly to work targeting rookie free agents.

"We're upstairs rolling on that right now in terms of the college free agency market," Emery said.

The Bears agreed to terms with 10 rookie free agents on Sunday. Here's what that "rolling" brought in:

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The Bears grabbed defensive end with pass-rushing potential in the sixth round, selecting Georgia's Cornelius Washington with 188th selection. Here's what Washington said about the Bears' plans for him:

Cornelius Washington In Action.jpgThe Bears rolled the dice in the sixth round of the NFL draft by taking Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington -- a ''workout warrior'' with impressive athleticism, less-impressive on-field production and ringing endorsements from draft experts Mel Kiper, Jr. and Mike Mayock.

The 6-4, 265-pound Washington ran a 4.53 40-yard dash with a 39-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump and 36 reps of 225-pounds at the scouting combine. But his on-the-field numbers are less impressive. After coming into the season as a candidate for the Butkus Award, he started 10 of 14 games for Georgia as a senior, with 22 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a half a sack and 17 quarterback hurries.

As a junior, Washington had five sacks and six tackles-for-loss. In his four-year college career, Washington had 10 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss.

His athleticism is intriguing. Washington was ranked the No. 7 outside linebacker prospect in Mel Kiper, Jr.'s Draft Report -- right behind Rutgers' Khaseem Greene, whom the Bears drafted in the fourth round.

The Bears added another offensive lineman in the 2013 draft, selecting Louisiana Tech tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth round with the No. 163 selection. Here's what he said about joining the Bears:

jmills1.jpgThe Bears added another offensive lineman in the 2013 draft, selecting Louisiana Tech tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth round with the No. 163 selection.

The Bears actually traded their original No. 153 pick to the Atlanta Falcons, who selected TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga, for the 163rd pick and a seventh-rounder (No. 236).

Mills (6-5, 316 pounds) was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection in 2012 at left tackle. But he's projected to be a right tackle in the NFL. He said he's open to either side. He just wants to play.

Mills figures to be competing against veterans J'Marcus Webb and Jonathan Scott at right tackle.

With the No. 117 selection, the Bears selected Rutgers outside linebacker Khaseem Greene, the 2012 Big East defensive player of the year. Here's what Greene said during his conference call with Chicago media:

Khaseem Greene fumble recovery.jpgThe Bears continued to address a need at linebacker with the departure of 2012 starters Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach, selecting Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene in the fourth round (117th overall) of the NFL draft Saturday. The Bears drafted Florida's Jon Bostic in the second round (50th overall) on Friday.

The 6-0 1/2, 241-pound Greene is a good fit for the Bears on several levels, but particularly as a playmaker. He set an NCAA record with 15 forced fumbles -- playing two years at safety and two at outside linebacker. He also was credited with 46 touchdown-saving tackles and forced lineman to jump offsides 18 times in two seasons at linebacker.

''I don't give up on any plays,'' Greene said in a conference call with Chicago-area reporters Saturday, ''whether I'm in front of the guy and trying to put my face on the ball to cause a fumble or [trying] to strip him or coming in as the second man or third man and stripping him.''

Greene was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, with six forced fumbles (tied for second in the country behind Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had seven), three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 12 tackes-for-loss.

''My mentality is I want to get the ball back,'' Greene said. ''I want to get it to my offense or even better, pick it up and score. That's my philosophy when it comes to defense -- getting to the ball, creating takeaways and going from there. It's always instilled in my head. It's something I worked on for the last five years at Rutgers and I'm going to work on it going forward from here.''

Bears try to shore up LB corps with Khaseem Greene

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Khaseem Greene In Action.jpgThe Bears continued to fortify their linebacker corps by drafting Khaseem Greene of Rutgers in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

The 6-1, 241-pound Greene is an intriguing prospect, because like so many defensive players these days, he's "moving down," having started at Rutgers as a safety. And he was moved there by coach Greg Schiano, the former Bears assistant and current Buccaneers head coach who knows a thing or two about football talent and getting players to the NFL. Greene had a second- and third-round grade by a lot of teams, according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.

''I don't know where I'd be right now if I stayed at safety,'' Greene told me at the NFL scouting combine in February. ''I don't know if the opportunity to contribute in the way that I did at Rutgers would have come about. But I'm definitely blessed and I'm glad coach Schiano saw something in me that I didn't see in myself and made the switch.''

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The Bears selected Florida middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic in the second round (50th overall) on Friday. He was their only draft pick on Day 2. Here's what Bostic said about joining the Bears:

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Bears general manager Phil Emery touted Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic's versatility on Friday after taking him in the second round (50th overall) in the draft. Here's his full transcript:

Howie Long meets the press.jpgIf the Bears had traded down and tried to get Kyle Long in the second round, he would not have been there. So said an impeccable source, Kyle's father Howie Long, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman who also is still connected to the NFL as an analyst on Fox.

Speaking to the Chicago media at Halas Hall after his son's introductory press conference Friday afternoon, Howie Long said he had inside information that other teams in the first round were interested in drafting Kyle.

''I knew when [Syracuse tackle Justin] Pugh came off the board as the fifth tackle and the two guards [Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack] were off the board,'' Long said, ''I kind of felt like -- and I won't share the two or three teams that were picking after Chicago -- but I felt like it was a really good opportuity that Kyle would go between 20-28, 29, without tipping my hand. But he would ahve been off the board ... I've heard people say they should have traded down and got him in the second round. He wouldn't have been there.''

General manager Phil Emery spoke at length about his decision to take Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long with the 20th overall selection on Thursday night. Here's what he said:

Mil Kiper surprised.jpgChris Berman's reaction as soon as Kyle Long was announced as the Bears' first-round draft pick said it all:

''Wow.''

Whether you liked the pick or not, there was a definite ''wow'' factor with the Bears' selection of Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long with the 20th pick of last night's first round. It's not that its a bad pick, but premature. Long was rated a second-round pick by most reputable draft analysts.

Even most critics acknowledge that Long could be an impact player and just what the Bears need. But -- and I'm exaggerating to make the point -- it's like if the San Francisco 49ers drafting Joe Montana in the first round instead of the third in 1979. One of the greatest draft picks of all time. But they did not have to make it that soon (and they did not). That's the most legitimate argument against Long at No. 20.

With that in mind, here is a compilation of reviews by various media outlets on the Bears' selection of Kyle Long in the first round:


Chris Berman, ESPN: "Wow."


Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN: "Kyle Long should help the Bears, but I'm taking Eifert [at No. 20] if I was them."

Phil Emery's Long reach could bode well for Bears

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Phil Emery at the draft (2).jpgThe problem with working so hard to prevent information from getting out is that you also keep information from getting in.

In 1983 -- 30 years ago today, in fact -- the Bears were so hermetically ensconced in their war room that the Bears took Notre Dame guard Tom Thayer in the fourth round -- unaware that the upstart USFL and former Bears coach George Allen had announced the signing of Thayer to a three-year contract.

General manager Jim Finks, in the midst of arguably the greatest draft in Bears history (acquiring seven players who would start in Super Bowl XX two years later), acknowledged the mistake but made the most of it.

''It's embarrassing but it's not the end of the world,'' Finks said. ''Looking at the bright side, he'll get some fine coaching and maybe end up in our stable someday.''

The great Finks had such a golden touch, even some of his more curious moves -- like drafting Ron Yary No. 1 overall in 1968 -- turned into gold. Thayer indeed ended up with the Bears two years later and became an eight-year starter, including the Super Bowl victory in 1986.

Current Bears general manager Phil Emery didn't make that same mistake Thursday night. But the Bears' selection of Oregon guard Kyle Long does make you wonder if the Bears are so adept at keeping information from leaking out that they prevent some information from getting in -- like the fact that Long was universally rated a second-round pick.

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The Bears selected Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long with the No. 20 selection during the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday. Here's Long's conference call with reporters afterward:

hesteraaron.jpgAaron Hester, a cornerback from UCLA, has never met his famous cousin, Bears kick returner Devin Hester. But he'd love to. And he'd also like to cover and tackle him.

"I can probably guard him," a laughing Aaron Hester told the Sun-Times. "Yeah, I can guard him."

Hester may get his chance soon enough. Hester, a 6-2, 198-pound corner, said teams are telling him he can go in "the middle rounds" in this year's draft. He's had a private workout with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has heard from the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans and others.

"There's a pretty good number of teams, but I'm just waiting until I hear my name called," said Hester, who participated in the NFL combine and had a solid pro day. "I'm just chilling and relaxing with family. I'm not throwing a big party or anything. I might have something after I get drafted. But right now, the plan is just to chill and hope for the best."

Alec Ogletree In Action.jpgA survey of 200 NFL mock drafts reveals that the Bears are expected to select Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree with the 20th pick of the first round.

Ogletree was the choice of 56 of the 200 mocks (28 percent), followed by Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (29, 15.5 percent), Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (26, 13 percent), Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown (19, 9.5 percent) and Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker (14, 7 percent).

A total of 26 players were listed as the Bears' pick. Ten of the mock drafts had the Bears trading down to make their first pick: to No. 22, 23, 25 and 31.

For what it's worth more of the prominent mock drafters have the Bears taking Te'o: Mike Mayock of NFL.com, Mel Kiper of ESPN, Gil Brandt of NFL Network and Ourlads.com. Charles Davis of NFL.com has the Bears taking Ogletree. Peter King of SI.com has them taking Eifert. The Sporting News has the Bears taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

D.J. Fluker in action.jpgNFL beat writers hold an annual mock draft in which a beat writer who covers each NFL team picks for the team they cover. The Sun-Times represented the Bears pick and traded the 20th overall pick to the 49ers for the 49ers' first-round pick (No. 31), third-round pick (No. 74) and a sixth-round pick (No. 180).

Here is how the mock draft went down, with analysis from each NFL beat writer:

1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

The Chiefs would prefer to trade down but assuming that doesn't happen, they need to secure left tackle for the long term. Branden Albert signed his one-year contract as the franchise player but isn't happy and has been absent from offseason conditioning and last week's mini-camp. Otherwise, they filled a lot of their needs in free agency. Not that they couldn't use an upgrade at a number of spots but they can line up and play a game right now, other than this hole at LT.


2. JACKSONVILLE: Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU

The Jaguars have accepted that trading out of the No. 2 spot isn't going to happen. Like a 2-14 team with a new general manager, head coach and coordinators, the Jaguars are undergoing a major roster overhaul and that makes for so many needs. They could go with a DE at No. 2 to help a pass rush that only 20 sacks last year (worst in the NFL) or a right tackle because the new staff has little faith in incumbent Cam Bradfield. After the first round,they also need a No. 1 corner (right now it's Alan Ball), a strong safety (Bradley said Monday there isn't a starter on the roster), Will linebacker who can play all downs and at some point, they should be expected to take a quarterback. They have only two on the roster.

They could make the safe pick and take Fisher, but right tackle can be addressed later with somebody like free agent Tyson Clabo. The Jaguars go with Ansah despite his inexperience.


3. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Dion Jordan, LB, Oregon.

The Raiders would love to trade down and get back the second-round pick they lost in the Carson Palmer trade. General manager Reggie McKenzie knows he needs some impact players, and his shredding of the 4-12 roster (38 of the 53 players he inherited are gone) has left Oakland without any pass rush. Not that it had any last year. The Raiders only had 25 sacks in 2012, but players who had 17 of those are gone. If the Raiders are able to trade down, I see them solidifying their front line with DTs Star Lotolelei or Shariff Floyd.

There will be some temptation to take Fisher, who might be the best player on the board, but Jordan fills the biggest need and has more star potential than a left tackle. The Raiders desperately need a star. Jordan has long arms and great athleticism and will immediately give the Raiders an outside rush.


Michael Buchanan packed up belongings in Champaign Wednesday, and he returned home to Chicago's South Side, where he'll soon learn where his NFL home.

The Fighting Illini defensive end is expected to be drafted, although his stock took a bit of a hit when his production dropped from his 2011 season.

Buchanan isn't sweating such details.Buchanan 2.jpeg

"I'm not nervous," he told the Sun-Times. "I feel like whatever happens, it's what was meant to happen, it's not about, 'If I don't go this round or that round.'

"All that matters is that I get there."

Ourlad's, a scouting service, projected Buchanan could go in the 4th or 5th round but that he has a chance to be "one of the biggest steals" of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Shea McClellin sacking Caleb Hanie.jpgSoft-spoken Shea McClellin isn't known for his rapier wit or gregarious sense of humor. But the Brian Piccolo Award seems to bring out the best in everybody.

''When I got dressed this morning, I realized I look like a college professor,'' McClellin, a bit underdressed in a sportcoact, tie and blue jeans said to laughter at the Bears' annual awards ceremonly at the Mugs Halas Auditorium. ''Sorry about that -- I should have worn my slacks.''

McClellin was typically humble and understated in accepting the Piccolo award, along with veteran teammates Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman, on Tuesday.

Brian Piccolo.jpgThe Brian Piccolo Award has been presented since 1970 to the Bears rookie who exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo, the Bears running back who died of cancer in 1970. The organization added a veteran winner in 1992.

Piccolo's sense of humor in the face of his devastating illness is what many former teammate remember most -- like when the Bears lost all five games they played after Piccolo was initially hospitalized in 1969.

''We were playing a game when he was in the hospital and we all got together and said, 'Let's get this one for Brian.' And we lost the game,'' former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone said. ''We go to the hospital and Brian said, 'Where's the win? Can't you guys do anything right?'

''Not that we were a good team, but you would think you could rise to the occasion that one time. That's why it was funny [at the hospital]. Brian took the edge off it. That's the kind of guy he was.''

Piccolo was an undrafted rookie from Wake Forest who worked his way onto the team and into the lineup. He replaced Gale Sayers when Sayers suffered his first knee injury in 1968.

McClellin was a first round draft pick, but has the same work ethic that turned Piccolo into a contributing player.

''Humility -- He doesn't sit there and bring a lot of attention to himself,'' said Bears defensive line coach Mike Phair, who introduced McClellin at the ceremony. ''When we're out doing drill work, holding bags, he's the first guy helping us out. He still does that today.

''Courage and loyalty, those are two things I saw in him [when the Bears scouted him last year]. The first season is rough, but he battled through, keeps his nose down and keep working. And he never complains.

''He's very observant and a great listener. He's a guy that's listening to everything you're saying and watching everything the veterans are doing. He doesn't say a whole lot.''

The Bears have added another leg to their roster. They team announced Friday they have signed kicker Austin Signor, who was in minicamp on a tryout basis, to a three-year deal.

Veteran kicker Robbie Gould is in the final year of a six-year contract with a $2.925 million cap hit. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

Gould didn't participate in the Bears' voluntary minicamp this week because of a calf injury suffered last season during pre-game warmups in Minnesota on Dec. 9. The Bears signed veteran Olindo Mare to take Gould's place after he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 12.

Signor, an undrafted free-agent rookie, played at Iowa (2006-07) and Eastern Illinois (2008-09). He earned first team All-OVC honors as a senior in 2009, leading Eastern Illinois with 76 points, connecting on 14-of-22 field goal attempts and all 34 extra points.

Brandon Marshall impressed with J'Marcus Webb

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Few Bears have had a more eventful offseason than J'Marcus Webb.

He was arrested for marijuana possession in late February, and he was replaced as the team's left tackle in March after the free-agent signing of Jermon Bushrod.

But Bears Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall singled out Webb as someone who has stood out.

"The person I'm impressed with is J'Marcus. He's embraced this," Marshall told me. "He's working hard, not only this week but keeping up with him this offseason. He's been putting in work. He wants it, man.

"He's still young. Sometimes, it may take a few years but he's got huge upside."

Webb will now compete to start at right tackle with Jonathan Scott.

A seventh-round pick in 2010, Webb has started 44 games for the Bears. But Webb, who is 24, has had rough moments on and off the field.

Earlier this month, Webb said he was looking forward.

"I'm young. You make some mistakes sometimes," Webb said at the time. "I'm pretty sure you guys have made some mistakes, here and there. You don't look down on it. You just kind of move forward and put things in a positive manner. I'm ready to be back here in Chicago and ready to get to work."

trestman8.JPGNew Bears coach Marc Trestman was so happy with how things were going during his first voluntary minicamp that he decided to send everyone home early on Thursday -- reporters included.

"It was a good three days, a very good three days," Trestman said after three days of on-the-field work concluded. "Today, we shortened down. Guys have worked very hard. They've run hard here. I wanted to make sure we left with no pulls or any injury-ridden players. I think we got off that really well. That was big."

Trestman was impressed throughout camp how well -- and how quickly -- offensive players grasped the plays he gave them. It started with 100 plays on Day 1 on Tuesday. The fact that new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker installed some blitzes on Thursday also pleased Trestman -- from an offensive point of view.

"Mel added some blitzes so our offensive line got some new looks that they hadn't seen and we had a chance to put some blitzes in our installations," Trestman said. "I said [Wednesday] that we added a bunch of new plays, another game plan essentially, so even though we ran only about 30 plays today in practice or less, they didn't know which plays were coming out until today. They had to learn everything in the installation, knowing that each group was only going to get 10 reps. The first got 10. The second got 10 and the thirds got 10. So they had to learn everything not knowing where it was coming today, and I thought they did a very good job."

Here's the Bears schedule for 2013 season:

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Evan Rodriguez was listed as a fullback for the Bear's minicamp and he practiced there throughout it, but that may change soon enough. A hybrid role could still very much be in his future.

Lovie on the sidelines.jpgLovie Smith left town without a word. But he resurfaced on ESPN's ''NFL Live'' on Thursday and said he will take this season off and ''get back in it'' next season.

''My plan was to sit back take a little time off -- get to know the family a little bit better. Study football and do some things I never had a chance to do,'' Smith said. ''That was a base part of the plan. But I'm not retired. I'm just going to take htis year off and get back in it next year.''

Here's the rest of his interview on ''NFL Live''

What does it feel like to be on the outside as the 2014 NFL season begins with mini-camps and the draft?

''When you've been in something as long as I have, you're going to miss some aspects of it. But you look at it from a fan's point of view. I know mini-camps are going on. You have the draft coming up. That's an exciting time. I can just enjoy it from a different perspective.''

What did Brian Urlacher mean to the Bears?

''So much. You look at every organization, there's a face of the franchise. There can't be a better player to represent an organization than Brian Urlacher has on the field. My nine years there, he was our [middle] linebacker, he did some much, a coach on the field. Great guy. So it'll be different not seeing No. 54 there. But with time things change and this is a different year.''

Devin Hester scores again.jpgBears kick returner Devin Hester, who was so upset after Lovie Smith was fired he said he was considering retirement, is on board with new coach Marc Trestman's regime and is willing to do -- or not do -- whatever he can to help the Bears win.

Though he still thinks he can make a contribution as a wide receiver, Hester said he is OK with the decision of Trestman and his staff to remove him from the offense and let him concentrate on special teams.

''I'm a team ballplayer,'' Hester said after the team's final mini-camp practice Thursday at the Walter Payton Center. ''Wherever they need me, that's where I'm going to fit.''

Hester said he is ''on the same page'' with new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who replaced Dave Toub -- the only special-teams coordinator Hester has known in his NFL career.

''From the first word I said to the last word he said, we're both on the same page,'' Hester said. ''We ... clicked.''

Former Bears coach Lovie Smith is making scheduled appearances on ESPN on Thursday. It's the first time he's spoken to any medium since being fired after nine seasons in charge of the Bears.

Smith appeared on SportsCenter early Thursday to discuss the upcoming NFL draft, but he'll also make an appearance on ESPN's NFL Live (3:00 p.m. CST).

Smith was fired on Dec. 31 after the Bears failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. He was replaced by Marc Trestman, who is holding a voluntary minicamp this week at Halas Hall.

The Bears still owe Smith $5 million for the upcoming season since he was fired with one year left on his deal and did not find a job in the NFL for the 2013 season.

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With the draft just over a week away and his roster looking more competitive than it several weeks ago, general manager Phil Emery touched on a number of draft-related subjects Tuesday at Halas Hall.

Here are some of the highlights:

devin hester.jpgUnder Lovie Smith, the Bears refused to give up on their experiment to turn record-breaking kick returner Devin Hester into a No. 1 wide receiver. Even numbers that clearly indicated Hester's production as a kick returner waned as his emphasis on offense increased refused to sway them.

It didn't take Marc Trestman and his staff long to decide otherwise. Trestman confirmed Tuesday that Hester will exclusively be a kick returner this season until further notice.

''The plan going in -- and I'll make it clear because I've been asked that a number of times -- Devin is going to focus on being our returner,'' Trestman said. ''He's got to be the returner for him to be there. And once that's locked in to place, which we expect that it will, then we'll see where it goes from there.

''We made a collective decision organizationally. I talked to the guys who have been here. Phil and I had a long conversation about it as well and just talking to Devin, let him get back to doing what he does best first. And once that's all in place we'll see if we need to, or if we're in a position to incorporate him in doing more things.''

At the owners meeting last month, Bears head coach Marc Trestman was very complimentary of Matt Forte.

The feeling is mutual.

"It's nice to hear that from a coach," Forte said of Trestman's glowing comments. "Obviously, he's watched a lot of film. And just in these last two weeks, getting to know him and being in meetings with him, he's very intelligent. He's very intelligent off the field but, football wise, he's even more intelligent."

Forte is also impressed with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, whom he already knew. In 2008, when he was eligible for the NFL Draft, Forte visited with the New Orleans Saints, where Kromer was an assistant coach.

" I remember him. He's a nice guy to talk to, and I like his attitude toward the game and how he teaches the game and how he teaches us about the protections, and breaks it down," Forte said. "They break down every aspect of the play, so we know what the goal of every play is. Each step. How it all works together."

Forte also added that he and quarterback Jay Cutler are excited about the concepts and new additions on offense, particularly the veteran offensive linemen.

"It's hard to throw when people are in your face. It makes my job and his job easier if the big guys up front are doing their jobs. So he's as excited as I am," Forte said. "We got a lot of guys up there with experience. The last couple of years - ever since I've been here - we've had guys with a low number of starts, and they get thrown in there. But this offensive line will have a lot of game experience under them."

manti teo.jpgBears general manager Phil Emery acknowledged the existence of Manti Te'o on Tuesday, but not much else.

Ever fearful of divulging too much information about players he might -- or might not -- draft, Emery would not comment on the Notre Dame linebacker after grudgingly admitting that the Bears did meet with Te'o at Halas Hall recently.

''Did we meet him? I'm not aware of that,'' Emery said when asked about the team's meeting with the Te'o. ''Yeah, I guess we did meet with him. But we're not going to share that kind of information -- although I will tell you that I found Manti to be a very good person, a very squared-away guy. I certainly enjoyed the meeting.''

In a kind of follow-up question, Emery said the Bears pay more attention to a player's ''play speed'' more than his 40-yard-dash time. Te'o ran a 4.82 40 at the NFL Combine and in the low 4.7s at Notre Dame's pro day (though one watch had him at 4.69). Either way, Te'o's lack of blazing speed is a factor -- especially for a team trying to replace Brian Urlacher.

''It's important within a range of times that you find acceptable for the position,'' Emery said, speaking in general about linebackers. ''More importantly, [it's] their play speed. Does he have good play speed, very [good] play speed, excellent, rare? We just go along with our scale.

''We ask our scouts to not look at the timed speed [but] to look at what they see in the fall, the tape and during their crosscheck assignments post the fall until February and put their own speed down for what they see as the play speed of the player. It's more important [that] that's sufficient or better than it is his 40-yard dash speed.''

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New Bears coach Marc Trestman couldn't have been more clear when it came to saying what position Gabe Carimi will be competing at this offseason.

"More guard," Trestman said Tuesday after the first day of voluntary minicamp after being asked if sees Carimi as a guard or right tackle. "He was hurt all last year. So we're going to focus on him competing at the guard position with Matt [Slauson]."

Bears general manager Phil Emery won't use the word "never" when talking about the possible return of longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. But this is still a team that wants to move forward.

"Certainly, our focus is on the roster that we have on the field and moving forward with our team, and using that roster, our talents and our resources to develop championships," Emery said Tuesday at Halas Hall before the Bears' voluntary minicamp opened. "That's where our focus is at."

General manager Phil Emery said injuries from last season will sideline wide receiver Brandon Marshall and kicker Robbie Gould during the Bears' voluntary minicamp this week at Halas Hall.

Marshall underwent minor hip surgery after his record-setting campaign in 2012. Gould was placed on injured reserve late last season after injuring his calf during pregame warmups in Minnesota on Dec. 9.

Coach Marc Trestman was asked about Marshall after his first practice.

"It's one day at a time," Trestman said. "He said he's feeling better. We'll talk to the trainers every day and when they say he's ready, he'll go."

I had a chance to speak to with new Bears middle linebacker D.J. Williams about a range of subjects as he settles into a new team and city. Here's the full Q&A with him:

D.J. WIlliams comes to Chicago to take over at middle linebacker for the Bears. But he also comes to Chicago with his own clothing line.

dyme.jpgSo what is "Dyme Lyfe"?

Where did it come from?

"Dyme Lyfe actually became a clothing company about a year ago, but me and friends were just speaking about 'Dyme Lyfe' for four or five years," Williams said. "It developed one season. Me, Marcus Thomas and Ron Fields, two teammates of mine in Denver, we used to hang out a lot in our free time and our spare time. We would just do things like get massages, go out to dinner with each other, just relaxing and just enjoy life.

"Our teammates would tease us and we started called the time 'Dyming,' which just means good and feeling good and just doing what we want to do. It kind of caught on."

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Asked about his expectations for the Bears' voluntary mini-camp next week, new Bears middle linebacker D.J. Williams talked about how he was looking forward to continuing to build relationships with his new coaches and teammates.

Then the veteran made a declaration -- and raised the bar for the Bears' linebacker corps.

"I'm actually excited about our linebacker corps," Williams told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. "I'll go on record and say, I'll be disappointed that if our linebacker corps isn't the top or one of the top linebacker corps in the NFL next year."

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The headlines didn't look good for LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery after he met the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

He soon became the NFL prospect who got into trouble for being too honest. He was the NFL prospect who admitted to taking plays, even games off and who had bets going with his teammates.

Of course, his draft stock tumbled in almost every single mock draft afterward.

Montgomery went from being projected as a first-rounder to potentially a third-rounder with character risks for teams to seriously consider when evaluating him.

But Montgomery, who entered the draft after his standout junior season, doesn't regret saying at the combine that "there were some times when effort was not needed" when he was at LSU. Instead, he calls it "a great thing" that happened to him.

"Actually, I don't regret it," Montgomery told the Sun-Times. "It may have been looked at overall in a negative light, but it definitely helped me prepare myself and help me train myself in skills off the field such as with the media. It's been a whole learning experience.

"I can assure you it's not that big of a problem. You can turn on the film and you can see that I'm a pretty motivated guy and I can work hard all the time regardless of who I am playing. But it definitely was a great thing to happen early on in my career, so I definitely now know how to handle the media, PR and attention. It definitely helped me go and get myself together overall as a player on the field as well as off the field."

Alec Ogletree of Georgia.jpgGeorgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has taken the lead as the expert's choice for the Bears' pick at No. 20 in the first round of the NFL draft on April 25. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. still has the Bears taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. Dan Durkin, a columnist for the Score's web site, has the Bears taking Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.

That pretty much covers the spectrum of linebackers to fill what either is or will be a gaping hole in the Bears defense, with Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach not being re-signed and Lance Briggs turning 33 -- tough still playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Ogletree has the highest ceiling but also some significant red flags because of off-the-field issues. Te'o has the lowest ceiling but the highest floor. And the 6-0, 241-pound Brown is right in-between, a player with better-than-average speed, worse-than-average size but a knack for playing better than he looks.

Phil Emery.jpgThough Bears general manager Phil Emery is an even-keeled, affable, regular guy -- he'd probably be a draft-nik if he was not an NFL GM -- he seems to take a perverse delight in staying a step ahead of those who are trying to figure out what he's going to do next.

And never moreso than in the NFL draft. Last year he not only drafted the player he wanted in the first round in Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, but a player nobody predicted he would take. It doesn't seem to get any better than that for Emery.

So even though all mock drafts come with a disclaimer -- anything can happen in the NFL draft -- the mock drafts of the Bears' selection comes with an additional caveat: Phil Emery is trying to outsmart all of us.

Here is the list of players who were projected to go to the Bears in various published mock drafts last season (where they actually went in parentheses):

1. Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU (No. 14 to St. Louis)

2. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois (No. 26 to Houston)

3. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina (No. 16 to New York Jets)

4. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (No. 20 to Tennessee)

5. Donatri Poe, DT, Memphis (No. 11 to Kansas City)

6. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (No. 17 to Cincinnati)

7. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (No. 42 to Miami)

8. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (No. 10 to Buffalo)

9. Luke Kuechley, LB, Boston College (No. 9 to Carolina)

10. Nick Perry, DE, USC (No. 28 to Green Bay)

11. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (No. 13 to Arizona)

12. Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (No. 21 to New England)

13. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa (No. 23 to Detroit)

14. Melvin Ingram, DL, South Carolina (No. 18 to San Diego)

15. Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin (No. 27 to Cincinnati)

For the first time in more than 20 years, a Bears player will wear No. 50 this coming season. New strong-side linebacker James Anderson will be the first Bear to don the number since Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary retired in 1992.

The No. 50 was never officially retired, but Singletary is a legend around these parts. Here's what Bears fans had to say about it:

Brandon Marshall figured he might as well take advantage of the extended NFL offseason.

So after undergoing a scope on his hip in January, Marshall doubled the recovery time to ensure he didn't rush back. Marshall Catch.jpg

"The good thing about the procedure I got done and when I got it done is, I got it done at the start of the offseason, and when you're able to do something like that, you can take your time with it," Marshall told me. "You can afford to be cautious. It's about working smarter, and I probably could have started weeks ago, but no rush. We don't play games until September. As long as I'm in top shape then, that's all that matters."

Marshall started running in a pool two weeks ago and running on a track last week.

He underwent a procedure on his hip in the 2010 offseason as well.

Marshall said he "felt something" the past two years.

"But within the past two years, I made it to the Pro Bowl," he said. "I'm excited to start this season 100 percent healthy and see how much better I can be, completely healthy.

"I feel so great, man."

The Bears announced the signings of two veteran defensive linemen on Tuesday -- defensive tackle Andre Fluellen and defensive end Kyle Moore.

Fluellen and Moore both signed one-year contracts with the Bears, who have now signed 11 players to one-year deals since free agency opened.

The Bears were thin at defensive line and Fluellen and Moore improve that depth and should offer competition for spots. The signings shouldn't impact how things proceed with veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije. The Bears are still believed to be interested in keeping Idonije, who made a $2.5 million in 2012.

General manager Phil Emery has said that he wants Idonije to return. Idonije also is on the record saying he hopes to retire a Bear. But the two sides are yet to find common ground.

Bears chairman George McCaskey was asked recently about Idonije's chances of sticking with the Bears for 2013.

"That's up to Izzy and his agent (Drew Rosenhaus) and Phil, [new coach] Marc [Trestman] and [chief negotiator] Cliff [Stein]," McCaskey said last week.

Meanwhile, here's what the Bears' announcement said about Fluellen and Moore:

New Bears middle linebacker D.J. Williams officially signed his one-year deal with the team just the other day. He said he's ready for the "challenge" of replacing longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher.

"I see it as a great challenge," Williams said in a statement released by his publicist on Monday. "I think it's a great opportunity for me to get to Chicago and play. I'm not trying to be anybody else or make anyone forget about Urlacher. He's a great player, a Hall of Fame player, and a guy I looked up to. I just can't wait to get there and gel with the team and do my best."

Bears CB Tim Jennings bullish on new DC Mel Tucker

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Tim Jennings pick vs. Houston.jpgPro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings was disappointed when the Bears fired Lovie Smith. But he's over it.

''There's not a hangover anymore. Football season's getting ready to start. Guys are excited, back in the locker room,'' Jennings said Monday at James Otis World Language Academy on Grand Ave., where he presented the school with a $10,000 health and wellness grant for winning an NFL-sponsored Play 60 Super School contest.

''When it happened, of rouse it was disappointing. But that's [because] the season was over and we had no more football. Now' we're getting acclimated to football, we're back to working out as a team. We have each other. And that's all that really matters.

''You can only play for who's there and who's in that locker room. That's our motivation. That's our focus. Now we have an opportunity to get back together and start working for that goal.''

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Bears coach Marc Trestman said recently at the NFL owners meetings that you'd have to ask Devin Hester how he feels about being solely a kick returner for this upcoming season.

On Sunday night, Hester declared on "The J Mack and Nate Vash Show" on WLS-AM (890) that he's OK with it and is looking forward to getting his "swagger" back.

"I'm fine with it," Hester said on the show, which is hosted by former Bears fullback Jason McKie (@Jmack37). "It was kind of my idea to let me more focus on my kickoff and punt return thing. ... It was more of my idea to do it."

Hester said he spoke to Trestman before heading back to Florida this offseason. It was then when it was agreed that Hester would focus on regaining his form on special teams.

"Me and coach Trestman talked before I went home for the break and we came up with the idea that I would just go back to being a key return man -- a punt return and kickoff return man -- and a little bit more special teams," Hester said. "That would be what I know as of now my role to be for the upcoming season."

Again, Hester is OK with that.

Who is gone? Who is here? What's left?

Here's a look at what the Bears have done this offseason (it will be updated as moves are made):

Former Bears linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is a Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowl selection.

But he's known more for his advocacy of same-sex marriage and gay rights than his prowess as a special teamer. Brendon 2.jpg

At the Super Bowl, he told the Sun-Times that he doesn't deserve any special credit because of his upbringing in Santa Cruz.

"I'm surprised that doing what's right, in this day and age, really shouldn't be applauded. That surprises me," he said. "But I'm not surprised because I was the first athlete to talk about it at a time where not too many people are talking about it.

"Since then, other athletes have been open about it. We're headed in the right direction."

During an interview Thursday with the Baltimore Sun, Ayanbadejo said up to four NFL players could come out and that it "will happen sooner than you think."

"We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together," he told the Sun. "It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy.

"It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out."

On Thursday night, Ayanbadejo, who was released Wednesday by the Baltimore Ravens, was honored along with Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe at the Straight for Equality Gala in New York.

Bears 2013 preseason opponents

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The Bears announced their opponents and weekends for the 2013 preseason.

They open on the road in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers Aug. 8-11 then return to Soldier Field for an Aug. 15 game against the San Diego Chargers.

Then the Bears head to Oakland to play the Raiders Aug. 22-25 before closing the preseason at Soldier Field against the Cleveland Browns Aug. 29.

It is the 10th consecutive year the Browns and Bears have played the preseason finale against one another.

Exact dates and times will be announced at a later time.

The four preseason opponents all finished below .500 in 2012. The Chargers and Panthers each had seven wins.

The Bears, of course, finished 10-6 in 2012.

emerylectern1.JPGLet's not forget the Bears are "open for business" when it comes to trading the 20th overall selection in this year's draft for more picks.

So don't get too caught up in all the hullabaloo surrounding ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper's current projection that has the Bears taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o at No. 20.

"[Signing tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod is] going to give us so much flexibility," general manager Phil Emery said when his two big free-agent prizes were introduced on March 13.

"To put it bluntly, we're open for business. If teams want to approach us about trading back, we're all ears. We're not going to pass up on a really good player at 20 that we feel will have an immediate impact on winning right now.

"But certainly the draft has strengths and if we have the opportunity to pull back so that we can collect picks, we're very open to that."

Jonathan Cooper In Action.jpgAfter addressing offense with their biggest free-agent signings -- tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett -- the Bears are expected to address their aging defense if they end up keeping their first-round pick at No. 20. Linebacker Alex Ogletree is the marquee name in some prominent mock drafts, a potential big-play linebacker who can play inside or outside.

But the opportunity presents itself, the Bears might still fortify their unselttled offensive line by drafting an offensive linemen -- most likely a guard after losing right guard Lance Louis to free agency and finishing last season with undrafted rookie James Brown starting on the left side.

The top possibilities at No. 20 according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. are Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper. Both are projected to go earlier than No. 20. But stranger things have happened.

Manti Te'o In Action.jpgWith the 20th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears will select Manti Te'o of the University of Notre Dame. So says long-time ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr.

''I did the projection last night late and I just looked at all the angles and I just think Chicago is where it's going to fall,'' Kiper, Jr. said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. ''I tried to get him down to Minnesota, because it makes so much sense. The Vikings at 23, the Vikings pick again at 25. They desperately need a middle linebacker. A big hole at that position. It would be perfect for what they do there.''

Mel Kiper.jpgKiper, Jr. predicted Te'o will be a productive NFL player. ''He should have a very good career -- whether it will be great or not is debatable,'' he said.

He compared Te'o to former Lions and Bills linebacker Chris Spielman, whom Kiper considers one of his biggest mis-evaluations in his 35 years of scouting the draft. Kiper, Jr. had Spielman pegged as a fourth-round pick. The Lions took him 29th overall in the second round -- and became a 10-year starter and four-time Pro Bowl player.

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Like everyone else on the Bears, offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb walked into the team's locker room at Halas Hall on Tuesday and found a new stall and saw that he had new neighbors.

"I'm actually sitting next to [defensive back] Zack Bowman and [defensive end] Corey Wootton," Webb said. "I guess it was like defense, offense, defense, offense. It was definitely weird."

What's going on?

"This way the team, we'll all get acclimated together," Webb said. "And, we'll have a great time doing it."

Bears chairman George McCaskey spoke to a handful of reporters Tuesday at the Ed Block Courage Award luncheon at Maryville Academy. Here's the Q&A:

On Tuesday, Bears offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb was encircled by the media for the first time since being arrested in downstate Illinois for marijuana possession and since the team replaced him at left tackle with Jermon Bushrod.

So yes, there was plenty to talk about.

"[The arrest] has been all cleared up," said Webb, who saw the charges against him quickly cleared. "I'm young. You make some mistakes sometimes. I'm pretty sure you guys have made some mistakes, here and there. You don't look down on it. You just kind of move forward and put things in a positive manner. I'm ready to be back here in Chicago and ready to get to work."

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In the end, the Bears did reach out to longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher after it was announced that they were parting ways. Team chairman George McCaskey just wanted to wait for the emotions to pass.

"I talked to him. He was very gracious," McCaskey said Tuesday at Maryville Academy, where the Bears' Ed Block Courage Award Luncheon was held. "I wanted to wait a little bit because I figured there would be a little emotion.

"But Brian knows how we feel about him. He's one of the all-time great Bears. He's continued the outstanding linebacker legacy of the Bears. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame, and when he is, everyone is going to think of him as a Chicago Bear."

Matt Toeaina surprised at timing of release

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Matt Toeaina arrived at Halas Hall Tuesday for the start of voluntary workouts, and he was escorted upstairs, where he was informed of his immediate release.

"I wasn't expecting that. I figured I would get this thing right with them," Toeaina told the Sun-Times, referring to his right knee, "and get healthy, and I would be good."

Toeaina was due a $760,000 base salary, with a $290,000 roster bonus and $75,000 workout bonus. Toeaina.jpg

Two days after Christmas, Toeaina underwent a scope to clean out his right knee. But he said it's still not right and he may need another clean up.

"I'm not sure," he said. "All I know is, I couldn't play and be able to do everything with the guys anyway."

Toeaina, 28, was on vacation a few weeks ago when the Bears asked him to take a pay cut. He declined, and he underwent a physical from a Bears doctor in Chicago two days after returning from Italy. After a brief check of his knee, the doctor asked him if he could play and Toeaina told him no.

He said his agent is looking into getting a second opinion.

"I'm good," Toeaina said. "My spirits are up. I'm just going to miss all the guys."

Toeaina said he "definitely" wants to keep playing and is expecting to be ready by training camp, if not sooner.

A sixth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007, Toeaina signed a three-year deal with the Bears in December 2007. He's started 24 games for the Bears, with two sacks, three passes defended and 50 tackles. Last season, he was limited to three games, including two starts.

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