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Lovie Smith reiterated that he has an offensive coordinator in Ron Turner when he was asked about the possibility of ousted Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis filling that role.

Neil Hayes reported today that Weis would have interest in the Bears' play-calling gig if it were to become available. As Mike Mulligan wrote last month when we shared the news that Mike Martz has told a league source he would like to work with Jay Cutler, that's what happens at this time of year. Coaches looking for work smell blood in the water and the rumor mill cranks up.

There's a good fit for Weis. His son Charlie Jr. could finish up high school in South Bend, Ind., next year. One of the first things a coordinator is going to look for is a quarterback, and the Bears have a former Pro Bowl performer in Jay Cutler. Weis certainly had success in New England with Tom Brady.

"You would like for me to comment on Charlie Weis, something that Charlie said?'' Smith said. "I can't comment on that. I don't know anything about that. We have an offensive coordinator in place right now. I can comment on that.''

Then, Smith was asked how Weis would do in a second tour in the league.

"No idea how he would do,'' he said. "He was a good coordinator back when he was in the NFL, that's about all can say.''

Smith declined to comment on the Martz report last month prior to the story coming out.

General manager Jerry Angelo said that the Bears have red flags now that they have lost six of seven games entering this afternoon's meeting with the St. Louis Rams.

But he's not panicking at this point, and vowed to fix the mess the 4-7 club has fallen into during a season that began with such huge expectations.

Speaking with WBBM play-by-play voice Jeff Joniak on the station's pregame show, Angelo addressed some of the issues plaguing the team. He was not asked about the status of coach Lovie Smith, who is 20-23 since losing Super Bowl XLI.

"We do have red flags,'' Angelo said in the interview. "Those flags were made by us. There will be some inventory like there is at the end of the year, there will be plenty enough time for that. Right now, I want to focus on the now, this afternoon, playing good football. We're paid to win. We have 16 games. We want to win each one of those games so we want to stay focused on the season."

"[Things] are exceptionally rough and we're all disappointed given the fact that we had high expectations. There is still a glimmer of hope and we'll always play on that as long as there is. We're in a poor state right now, obviously, we need a win badly. That doesn't ever lose our focus in terms of what we have to do now."

Asked what his message to fans would be, Angelo said not to lose hope.

"I have been in this league a long, long time. Believe me, I will never live without hope,'' he said. "There might be situations that look hopeless but it certainly is not that way internally. We will come out of this better for it. I promise you that. Sometimes things don't work out according to plan. Doesn't mean the plan was bad. The plan was solid. It just didn't work. We'll go back and we'll re-visit the things that didn't work, fix the things that didn't work, and when you do that you will be better for it.

"Can I sit here and tell you exactly what? I can't do that right now. There will be time to do it. I promise this to our fans, and I know this in my heart of hearts, we will be better through this ordeal. I do promise you that, and there will always be hope. It will not be false hope."

The Bears are making a move at the position they've changed more than any other under Lovie Smith.

No, Jay Cutler isn't headed to the bench for Caleb Hanie.

The Bears are going to do a safety dance. Again. Danieal Manning is headed to the bench this week against St. Louis and Kevin Payne will start in his place. Manning will probably return to his role as the nickel back, meaning Corey Graham will probably be the odd man out. Manning has had some issues in coverage recently. He was out of position on DeSean Jackson's long touchdown catch two weeks ago. He remains the most athletic member of the secondary, but it hasn't translated into lots of plays.

The move could be a creation of the Bears' desire to shut down the Rams' Steven Jackson, who enters second in the league in rushing. Jackson hasn't practiced for the last two days because of a back issue, but he's expected to play. His production has been terrific, especially when you consider the issues St. Louis (1-10) faces on offense. The Rams have trailed all season--they rarely play with the lead--and yet their passing offense ranks 22nd. Whether it's Marc Bulger or Kyle Boller, who will start this week, they are struggling to move the ball through the air. The speedy Donnie Avery is the only wide receiver who was on the roster at the start of the season, amazing turnover when you consider it.

The Bears have fallen off on the field since their appearance in Super Bowl XLI, but that hasn't made them any less of a draw in prime time.

The Sports Business Journal broke down the numbers for prime time audiences on a team-by-team basis since 2006 on NBC and ESPN, detailing the activity for Sunday and Monday night time slots. The Bears came in fourth place, averaging 16.316 million for their 14 prime-time games in that period, according to the report.

They trailed only Dallas (19.152 millions), Indianapolis (16.664 million) and the New York Giants (16.599 million). Interestingly, the Cowboys top the list despite having not won a playoff game in 13 seasons. It's a real testament to the star appeal of the team that wears a star on the side of its helmet.

The Bears held a high level meeting at Halas Hall last week after a report was made that the club had extended back channel feelers to Bill Cowher to gauge his interest in potentially coming on board in 2010. Eventually, the brass in the building decided the best response for the club to have was no response at all, so the organization has remained silent on the issue.

Someone has spoken up now. ESPN's John Clayton went the other way and said it wasn't accurate in an appearance on WMVP-1000 this afternoon.

"Literally, about two minutes ago I was just talking to someone about this in the Bill Cowher camp,'' Clayton said. "And that is 100 percent inaccurate. No reaching out to Bill Cowher and no reaching out to Bill Cowher representatives, friends or anything of that nature. And Bill has made it known that he doesn't want to affect any current coach, whether it is an interim coach or a head coach, who is under a contract until the end of the season because he wants to be true to all the coaches that are currently coaching.

"There is no contact or illusion of a contact. Nut I will tell you this factually, he is interested in two jobs: one being the Chicago Bears, and the other being the Houston Texans. Both would have to open for that to happen but he is interested. But in the end there hasn't happened anything that would give him any indication that he would be contacted."

The Bears will have to follow a stricter NFL policy regarding concussions before cornerback Charles Tillman can return to the practice field or consider playing in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Tillman was knocked out of Sunday's loss at Minnesota with what coach Lovie Smith has repeatedly called a "mild concussion.'' He did not practice today, and was seen driving out of the facility in the late morning.

Commissioner Roger Goodell notified teams today of an expanded return-to-play mandate for players who suffer concussions that takes effect immediately. The stricter guidelines was created by the league's medical committee on concussions in conjunction with the NFL Players Association.

The new statement reads:

"Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant. A critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury. Accordingly, players are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion."

Add Charlie Weis to the list of available possible offensive coordinators.

The New York Daily News has reported that Notre Dame has taken care of the fully expected and canned Charlie Weis.

It was a forgettable era for the university going all the way back to the sham of a hiring process used to bring Weis in. The school asked ex-Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache to come speak with them about the position. Blache said he wasn't interested. The school called back. Blache said he wasn't interested. Finally, school officials played on his loyalty as an alum and he agreed to meet with them provided it remained private.

Then, unscrupulous school officials leaked the fact that they had met with Blache to media, making it known the Irish had interviewed a minority coaching candidate after firing Tyrone Willingham, an African-American.

MINNEAPOLIS--The Bears are turning back to one of the men they brought in to improve their offensive line.

Frank Omiyale is expected to start at left guard this afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings.

He will replace Josh Beekman, who has started the last four games. Omiyale started the first six games of the season before the team made the change to Beekman in hopes of jump-starting the moribund running game. The Bears have not run the ball any better with Beekman in the lineup, and they view Omiyale to be a better pass defender. That much was evident when they inserted Omiyale for Beekman at the two-minute warning at San Francisco.

MINNEAPOLIS--As bad as the Bears' running game has been this season--the joke going around this week was they no longer get off the bus running, they get off a minivan running--they're going to have to be able to throw the ball this afternoon against the Vikings to have success.

That means they're going to have to keep the pocket clean for quarterback Jay Cutler, and that's something the offense has struggled to do this season against pass rushers far less accomplished than the Minnesota front four. Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks since being drafted in 2004 with 68. He's got 10 1/2 this season and terrorized the Bears for 4 1/2 last season. The thinking in getting Orlando Pace--and it's not like general manager Jerry Angelo had a bounty of options when John Tait surprised the team by surprising--was that he'd definitely improve pass protection.

Pace played a solid game last week vs. Philadelphia's Trent Cole, a compact, high-energy guy that some figured would give the lumbering Pace fits. Now, the bar is raised with Allen, the Vikings' right end. Pace has some familiarity with him. The Rams and Chiefs, where Allen came from, play every year in preseason. Pace has faced him once in the regular season in 2006 in a game in which Allen had two sacks of St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger.

"Jared is having a good year,'' Pace said. "I've played him a few times. You know he's a guy who is going to give a lot of effort on every play. He's going to keep coming. So you have to really block him to the whistle. But he's having a really good year. He's a younger guy [when I played him before], so he probably gotten a lot better.''

Roger Goodell was hired by the owners but makes it clear that he's a commissioner for everyone in the NFL, including the league's greatest asset--the players.

He formed a player advisory committee last week that includes Tony Dungy, Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis and Brian Dawkins, but took communication with the players a step further when he met with Bears players this morning at Halas Hall in a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

"They have a variety of concerns. They talk about the business, the future. We talk a lot about player safety,'' Goodell said as he left the facility. "They talk about what happens on the field, the quality of the game, what we could be doing better. I really encourage them to bring to me what they think needs to be addressed both on and off the field."

The business players want to know about is the labor situation with the league facing an uncapped year in 2010 if an extension of the collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached. Player safety is an issue gaining focus as concussions remain in the forefront. But the main story between now and March will be whether or not the owners and players can get together and reach an accord.

"I think the most encouraging thing is that people are talking and they're addressing issues,'' Goodell said. "The negotiating team for the owners and the negotiating team for the players are talking. I think that is the most positive thing because it is going to get resolved at the negotiating table."

Right guard Roberto Garza is suited up and practicing this morning in the Walter Payton Center after sitting out Wednesday's workout with a right ankle injury.

He is expected to start Sunday's game at Minnesota. Garza was the only player to miss Wednesday's practice. The Bears moved Josh Beekman to right guard and plugged Frank Omiyale in at left guard. Now, they're back with Beekman at left guard.

Bears coach Lovie Smith declined to comment when asked to comment specifically about reports of coaching changes at Halas Hall, including a Sun-Times story that Mike Martz would love to reunite with his former defensive coordinator to work with quarterback Jay Cutler.

Smith said that his full attention is on the Minnesota Vikings, and that when you're 4-6 in a season that began with such great expectations, these are the things that are going to happen.

"Martz would love to work with Jay Cutler,'' a source close to the former architect of the Greatest Show on Turf told the Sun-Times.

Martz reacted angrily to the report when reached this afternoon by the Sporting News.

"I've never had any discussion with anybody about it. Ever. And it's extremely unprofessional, so inappropriate. This is just coming out of nowhere. I don't know who makes this crap up, but somebody is making it up.

"It's just so wrong when people make stuff up like that. There are the kinds of things you despise as a coach."

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