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We come to our second to final position-by-position breakdown as we close in on packing our bags and heading to Bourbonnais, Ill., and the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. This morning we target special teams.

Projected starters: K Robbie Gould, 6-0, 185, 5th season, Penn State; P Brad Maynard, 6-1, 188, 13th season, Ball State; LS Pat Mannelly, 6-5, 265, 12th season, Duke; KR Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian; PR Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami.

2009 salary cap numbers

Robbie Gould $2,905,200
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Pat Mannelly $962,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Brad Maynard $1,392,280

Number of specialists on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of specialists on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: The Bears didn't get the kind of electric scores they grew accustomed to from Hester, but they still scored on special teams in 2008. Manning ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, Brandon Lloyd and Garrett Wolfe both scored on blocked punts and Zack Bowman scored on a muffed punt. Alex Brown also blocked a 38-yard field goal try by Green Bay's Mason Crosby in the Week 16 meeting with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bears went on to win in overtime. So, it's not like Dave Toub's unit was without major contributions. No one can pinpoint exactly why Hester lost his edge in the return game. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoffs where he saw about every gimmick imaginable and was worse on punts, averaging only 6.2 yards. There are a handful of theories, all of them probably valid in part. The biggest reason is pretty simple--Hester got a lot more work on offense and that took away from his return game. The stats certainly support that thinking. Hester was on the field for 631 offensive snaps last season vs. 226 in 2007. He had 121 special teams snaps in 2008 vs. 182 in 2007. Another key factor to consider is the turnover the Bears had on special teams. Playing without Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo for the first time, Hester's return units lacked the mojo they had enjoyed previously. Ayanbadejo wasn't just a tremendous player, he was a leader and knew when the group needed an infusion of energy.

Still, special teams remained solid and wound up finishing eighth in the composite rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News after back-to-back No. 1 finishes. Manning would have been the NFC's Pro Bowl return man if he would have been promoted before the Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. He led the league in kickoff returns at 29.7 yards, and his success may lead opponents to approach him differently this time around. The coverage teams were solid but not as good as they have been in the past.

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We didn't stumble across Donald Driver's assessment of the Bears' wide receivers until a big headline was plastered across ProFootballTalk.com, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came across something that position coach Darryl Drake might want to print out and stick in his training camp bag. Now.

Driver, talking to Sirius NFL Radio, was very complimentary of the Bears' acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler, and had nice things to say about the offensive line, running back Matt Forte and the defense. But the wideouts ... what wideouts?

"I think Chicago did a great job, and Lovie Smith went out there and got Jay Cutler to lead this team, but one thing they don't have is they don't have the receiver group," Driver said. "They have the running back, they have the offensive line and they have a great defense. But you're going to have to need receivers to make plays down the field, and they don't have that right now. So I can see on our end we have all of that on our offense. And then you go back to look at Minnesota. Minnesota has a great running game, but they just don't have the top-of-the-line quarterback that they need. So I'm hoping my guy [Brett Favre] doesn't go over there, but if he does then I wish the best for him."

The way the Bears' wideouts played against Green Bay last season, Driver may have let them off easy. Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson did a public mugging of the wide receivers in the first meeting. The Bears managed to lose 37-3 and in the process they completed four passes to wide receivers. Yes, they lost by five touchdowns (minus one extra point) and couldn't get five passes to the biggest playmakers on offense.

Brandon Lloyd has two receptions for 17 yards.

Rashied Davis had one receptions for 36 yards.

Devin Hester had one reception for seven yards.

Four catches. 60 yards.

Granted, that was the week Kyle Orton came back a week too early from an ankle injury but Orton wasn't the only player struggling at Lambeau Field.

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The game of baseball lends itself to endless statistical analysis. You could just talk numbers from now until Tuesday's all-star game about the struggles of the Cubs without even mentioning the sideshows that have dominated the season to this point on the North Side. There is a statistical explanation or trend for everything.

Football isn't broken down in quite the same way, or at least it has not been in the mainstream. But the good folks at Football Outsiders are doing all they can to introduce some new tools for examining the game. Just this past week they released the Football Outsiders Almanac in PDF format. The actual book should be available in a few weeks on Amazon.com. This is the same publication that previously was Pro Football Prospectus.

If you put stock in their work you can call your travel agent. Football Outsiders projects the Bears to win the NFC this season. That's right, they have the Bears returning to Miami three years after losing Super Bowl XLI there.

"We have them with the highest projected record of any team in the NFC,'' managing editor Bill Barnwell said. "Thanks to improvements along the offensive line and a defense that we expect to be much healthier."

The addition of Jay Cutler has a little bit to do with their forecast as well. We've done a little light reading through the 517-page book and it's loaded with some very interesting analysis, some of which we will touch on right here and more of which we'll get into later this week and as we get closer to training camp. The PDF version of the book is available on their Web site here if you want to check it out yourself.

The statistic at the center of almost everything Football Outsiders does is DVOA--Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. It's not quite as simple as yards per carry or even the often misleading passer rating. What DVOA does is put yardage gained into better perspective. An eight-yard pass on third-and-10 isn't very helpful. It's going to lead to a punt. But a one-yard run on third-and-one is effective, right? A one-yard one on third-and-one vs. the Williams Wall or the Pittsburgh Steelers is more impressive, too, than say an identical outcome vs. Detroit. DVOA evaluates every single play during the NFL season and strips out plays such as Hail Mary passes, kneel downs, spikes, and every play is studied after adjusting for down, distance, situation on the field and the quality of the opponent. So every third-and-one play across the entire league is analyzed. Every third-and-12 is studied. Every snap for all 32 teams goes under the microscope. The DVOA is the percentage vs. the league average. So a 10 percent DVOA is pretty good. A running back with a 10 percent DVOA is doing 10 percent better than the league average. On defense, a negative DVOA means a team is allowing fewer yards than the league average.

So where do the Bears stack up? Well, it's been since 1995 that they had a positive DVOA on offense. Erik Kramer's big season when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns hasn't been replicated since. In fact, no Bears' passer has come close. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had a 17.7 percent DVOA that year as an offense, which is tremendous production. Last year, they were minus-4.3 percent, similar to the minus-4.2 percent they registered during the Super Bowl season of 2006. The worst during their 14-year stretch in which they had just the one positive season (1995) came during the Terry Shea Experiment of 2004 when the Bears were at minus-36.5 percent, worst in the league.

Defensively, the Bears fared much better last season than their total defense ranking of 21st, which measures just yards allowed. When Lovie Smith says there is more to defense than yards allowed, perhaps he has his DVOA in mind. The Bears' DVOA on defense in 2008 was minus-6.8 percent, which ranked seventh. That was one spot better than where they were in 2007. Football Outsiders' system had the Bears as the second-ranked defense in the league in 2006 at minus-19.7 percent and tops in 2005 when they were minus-21.5 percent. The lowest they have finished under Smith was ninth in 2004. We'll get into a few reasons why the DVOA was solid last season a little later on.

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With Kyle Orton's perceived top target looking more like he wants to play elsewhere, the Denver Broncos brought in a guy who looked like he was on his way to being Orton's top target last season.

Denver reeled in Brandon Lloyd, signing him to a contract Monday afternoon. He's no replacement for Pro Bowl performer Brandon Marshall, but he gives the Broncos someone Orton is familiar with heading toward training camp. Lloyd jumped out last summer in the preseason game at Seattle when Orton went to him repeatedly in the two-minute offense. They continued to work well together through the first four games of the regular season when Lloyd was easily the club's leading receiver. But a minor knee injury in Week 4 put him on the shelf and whatever chemistry they had together fizzled before Lloyd returned six weeks later. It came as a surprise to no one when Lloyd exited at the end of the season after his one-year deal expired.

What also didn't come as a surprise was the report out of Denver earlier today that Marshall told Broncos owner Pat Bowlen "I think I'd like to be traded."

Sound familiar? Star player wants out of the Mile High City? Unlike Jay Cutler, Marshall's beef is over money. He boycotted the team's mandatory minicamp over the weekend, and has been a no-show for voluntary OTA's. It's not that Marshall would have been on the field. He is still recovering from April 1 surgery to his hip.

When there is news of a disgruntled star wide receiver, the idea that he could come to the Bears isn't far behind. It will be that way from now until the Bears land a No. 1 wide receiver. In fact, the idea of Marshall has been floating around since, oh, about a half-hour after the Bears dealt for Cutler on April 2. If you think Cutler has a rapport with Earl Bennett, that's nothing compared to how he worked with Marshall. The Broncos would be hard-pressed to justify dealing Marshall, but no one thought they were actually going to cut ties with Cutler. You don't have to read between the lines with coach Josh McDaniels. He wants Marshall.

"All we can say about this is we're going to do everything we can to reconcile the situation so that Brandon returns to the field," McDaniels said. "Until then, we're going to concentrate on the players that are here."

Marshall is set to enter his fourth year in the league and the final year of his contract. That doesn't mean he's destined to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. First, if there is no CBA extension, Marshall will be a restricted free agent in 2010. Second, the Broncos would be foolish not to place the franchise tag on him if he is headed toward the open market. Julius Peppers wanted out of Carolina. That doesn't mean the Panthers wanted to see him go. They tagged him. Denver isn't going to let Marshall walk away for nothing.

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It's wide receiver fever today. Catch it! Let's get right to the mailbag.

Q: Huge Bears fan from New Zealand. Probably the only one in New Zealand so your columns are much appreciated. My question is of course about the wide receiver position. I think the Bears will do fine with what they have but why not improve? What about Matt Jones? The Bears don't have great height at the position and it is known that the coaches love speed. Matt Jones is a monster and ran a 4.37 at his combine in 2005 (even though he might not play as quick in pads). Getting named the beast at the combine shows he has talent. No problem with his hands and he had 65 receptions last year while missing four games. He has experience and is a No. 1 receiver. He would give Devin Hester and the other young receivers time to develop. Also he is 26 and has to be the best option apart from Anquan Boldin. However, I know the Bears probably say they equally value a clean record which is maybe why they haven't touched him. But he has been cleared of any game suspensions and only a fine by the NFL. Will this lead to more interest? I think improving is more important than getting someone with some bad history. A 26-year-old, 6-6 receiver with experience. Why not?

Michael S., New Zealand

A: While Jones has recently been in Arkansas working through a court-mandated program, he's spent much of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Florida. Jones is said to be in terrific shape and the hope is that he will have multiple offers to choose between. Obviously, the Bears would be a team he'd probably be interested in joining when you consider the depth chart, Jay Cutler and, well, the depth chart. But the later it gets, the less chance there is the Bears get involved with Jones, who learned recently that the NFL will not be imposing any more sanctions against him. You make a good point that he might not play as fast as he timed several years ago. While he was very productive last season in Jacksonville, which has a run-oriented attack, Jones was a possession receiver. We pointed out the work done recently by our friend Eric Edholm over at Pro Football Weekly. He noted that of Jones' 166 career receptions, three have gone for more than 39 yards. However, few consider Jones to be a true No. 1 receiver. While we think Jones would provide an upgrade instantly for the Bears, the Bears believe rookie Juaquin Iglesias can be a productive possession receiver. Perhaps that is a role they have in mind for Earl Bennett as well. If they go outside for a receiver at this point, chances are greater it will be Burress. Unlike Jones, Burress has a whole tangle of issues to sort through, including court issues and then a likely suspension imposed by the league. Stay tuned.


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After discussing two remaining options at wide receiver on Wednesday night in Plaxico Burress and Matt Jones, let's take a final look back on the wide receiver corps of 2008 and its production.

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led all NFL running backs in receptions and Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen proved to be a solid combination in the passing game but the Bears struggled to get consistent production from their wideouts. The problem was more acute down the stretch when Kyle Orton was playing with an ankle injury. How much that factored in the lack of production by the wide receivers is anyone's guess. But five times over the final eight games the wide receivers combined for five receptions or less. What that means is the Bears were not having much success pushing the ball downfield and as offensive coordinator Ron Turner says, it's difficult to consistently mount 70- and 80-yard drives without big plays.

Week 10 Tennessee--5 receptions by wide receivers
Week 11 at Green Bay--4
Week 13 at Minnesota--5
Week 15 New Orleans--5
Week 16 Green Bay--3

Here is how the playing time broke down during the season followed by the statistics:

Rashied Davis 667 of 1,012 plays, 65.9 percent
Devin Hester 631 of 1,012 plays, 62.4 percent
Marty Booker 376 of 1,012 plays, 37.2 percent
Brandon Lloyd 376 of 1,012 plays, 37.2 percent
Earl Bennett 16 of 1,012 plays, 1.6 percent
Brandon Rideau 11 of 1,012 plays, 1.1 percent

Hester 51 catches, 665 yards, 5 TD
Davis 35 catches, 445 yards, 2 TD
Lloyd 26 catches, 364 yards, 2 TD
Booker 14 catches, 211 yards, 2 TD

Here we go with our final Four Down Territory edition of the week. With the draft rapidly approaching, we'll hit a Q&A Monday through Friday next week doing our best to answer all of the draft questions you might have. Let's get right to it.

Q: It seems like the Bears have had so-called easy schedules the last few years based on the opponents' winning percentage the previous year and the easiest of all 32 this year. I'm wondering how well the previous year's win percentage actually correlates with the next year's win percentage. In other words does the preseason strength of schedule actually tell us much about how tough the actual season ends up being?

Julie R., Michigan

A: That's a good question and in order to do our best answering it we've crunched a few numbers. We've also got a link here to a good story by ESPN's John Clayton earlier this week that touches on this very subject. Clayton points out that the first-place schedule has been a tough collar for the NFC South winner to wear each year. In five of the last seven seasons, the NFC South champion from the previous year has finished last. Certainly a tough schedule was not much of an obstacle for some very good teams in 2008. Pittsburgh (1st), Indianapolis (2nd), Baltimore (4th) and Minnesota (5th) all faced supposedly difficult scheduled this past season and all four clubs reached the postseason. We took a look at the strength of schedule for every playoff team the past four seasons. Here is what we found:

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We're already into the second week of free agency and the action has pretty much slowed to a trickle. The Bears are gearing up for their mandatory veteran minicamp, which begins on the soonest date possible, Monday, March 16. The players will take physicals that day and then three days of practices begin the following day. There's no drama this time around. Remember, Brian Urlacher made threats that he wouldn't show last year, upset at stalled talks for what eventually became an $18 million, one-year extension. Let's jump into the mailbag and see what we have.

Q: If we all agree that the Bears need a wide receiver and will more than likely target one in the draft, why have they not as of yet re-signed Brandon Lloyd to, at the minimum, a one-year deal to take the Marty Booker spot? They will still have a roster spot available for a rookie in the draft. Lloyd, despite being hurt, was productive when in the lineup and much more reliable than Rashied Davis for Kyle Orton.

Eric, Orlando, Fla.

A: I'm not sure reliable is an adjective I'd use to describe Lloyd. In fact, I'm not sure that word has ever described him in his NFL career. You have to climb into the Way Back Machine and go back to Weeks 12-14 of the 2005 season to find the last time Lloyd caught three or more passes in three consecutive games. I'd say that's a fairly simple measurement for reliability of veteran wide receiver. Lloyd suffered a minor knee injury in Week 4 last season against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was told he would be sidelined two to four weeks. He took five, six if you count the bye week, and made it known to everyone he wasn't going to be back on the field until he was 100 percent. Upon returning, Lloyd made seven catches in six games before breaking out with four receptions for 34 yards in the season finale at Houston. At least Davis was on the field.

To re-sign Mike Brown or not ... that's one of the questions the Bears will have to answer soon if they have not already tackled that issue in a Halas Hall board room.

If the organization has not already completed organizational meetings reviewing the 2008 season and charting a path for the offseason ahead, it will probably do so by the end of the week. That would give them next week to gear up for the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins Thursday, Feb. 19.

One of the first orders of business for general manager Jerry Angelo is determining what to do with his own own players. All clubs hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until free agency opens Feb. 27. Brown and left tackle John St. Clair are the only primary starters from last season who will be unrestricted free agents. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, running back Kevin Jones, quarterback Rex Grossman, linebacker Darrell McClover and safeties Brandon McGowan and Cameron Worrell will be UFA's. Weak-side linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Marcus Hamilton are exclusive rights free agents.

As we pledged to do this offseason, we're not going to take our eye off the quarterback position for long. With that, let's dive right into Tuesday's Four Down Territory and start with a couple of QB queries.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kyle Orton? How much is his dropoff in production in the second half attributed to his ankle injury? Is he the longterm answer at quarterback? How much can he reasonably improve if the wide receiver corps remains so mediocre?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: If anyone has the answer to this question, Jerry Angelo would like to hear from them. Pronto. Here is the bottom line--Orton will be the starting quarterback for 2009. Even if the club brings in a veteran there isn't going to be any type of derby. Not after the maneuvering the team has done since the season ended to make sure everyone knows it believes in Orton.

Just about three weeks in advance of free agency the Bears have made their first move of the offseason by adding quarterback Brett Basanez, who was available because he was a practice-squad player for the Carolina Panthers last season. He didn't have to wait until free agency to sign. There will be plenty of news and speculation to work through as we move closer to the opening of the NFL shopping season on Feb. 27.

Obviously, the moves by the club at the start of free agency will help shape decisions that will be made come the draft. Here's the latest mock draft by Todd McShay and Scouts Inc. at ESPN.com. He's got the Bears drafting Percy Harvin in the first round with the 18th pick. We don't see any way the Bears consider Harvin. He'd give them a second Devin Hester. He's a little like Hester in that he's not a proven commodity at wide receiver. He spent time as a running back last season at Florida. He's got an injury history. After drafting Chris Williams in the first round last season, general manager Jerry Angelo is not likely to roll the dice on a player with medical issues. They don't need a Hester clone as much as they need a gamebreaking receiver with size. I'm not sure that player will exist where they're drafting, but that's an issue for another day.

The mock goes through the second round and there they have the Bears grabbing Oregon center/guard Max Unger. It's a good bet the Bears go for an interior lineman in the first four rounds of the draft but it's a better bet they go for a tackle first. The draft will give us plenty to discuss moving forward. For right now, let's jump into the mailbag and resume Four Down Territory.

Five days later, Charles Tillman's rough night in the Metrodome got rougher.

The NFL came down on Tillman, announcing he has been fined $7,500 for his horse-collar tackle of ex-Bear Bernard Berrian in the game. That play came after Berrian singed Tillman for a 99-yard touchdown, tying a league record.

"[Horse-collar tackles] are costly,'' Tillman said. "It wasn't intentional. I don't think it was a dirty play or anything. I don't know. It's just reaction. I reached out that was the only thing I grabbed."

It's the second time Tillman has been fined this season. He was docked $5,000 for his role in a skirmish that led to a rally and victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September. Tillman was fined $7,500 for a horse-collar tackle of Vikings receiver Robert Ferguson last season at the end of a 71-yard reception. Repeat violators of the rule are subject to more severe punishment. Dallas safety Roy Williams, whose dirty play led to the rule being put in place, was suspended without pay for one game for multiple horse-collar infractions.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Brandon Lloyd category.

Brad Maynard is the previous category.

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