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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.

Linebacker Lance Briggs was credited with a season-high 15 tackles after coaches finished reviewing game film of Sunday's loss to Arizona.

It hasn't been a good number for the Bears, though, as Briggs was also credited with 15 tackles in the loss at Cincinnati. The weak-side Pro Bowl standout now has a team-high 79 tackles, putting him on pace for 158. His career high is 176 in 2006.

Middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was credited with a season-high 12 tackles. Danieal Manning made nine and Kevin Payne added eight.

The statistic that didn't show was the number of missed tackles the coaches tallied up. When asked about the Cardinals rushing for a season-high 182 yards, Lovie Smith blamed missed tackles as much as anything. Arizona entered the game averaging less than 65 yards rushing per game.

The Bears will list wide receiver Devin Hester as questionable on the injury report, but he is expected to start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

"I went 100 percent today,'' Hester said. "I'm ready to go.''

Hester was coy about whether or not he will remain as the punt returner if he's not 100 percent. It's a task that could be handled by Earl Bennett.

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The 2009 NFL schedule was released April 14, 12 days after the Bears completed their trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that sparked tremendous expectations for the team.

The season opener at Green Bay followed by the home opener this afternoon with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers looked like a formidable start for all those not sipping the Kool Aid. Now, after a rough loss at Lambeau Field that has the Bears making four changes in the starting lineup on defense, two necessitated by injuries, the Bears know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start. A loss to the Steelers could put the Bears two behind the Packers and fellow NFC North foe Minnesota. Green Bay hosts Cincinnati (0-1) and the Vikings, which also won their opener, are at Detroit (0-1) where the Lions will try to avoid their 19th straight defeat.

The statistics are daunting as well. Three of the 10 teams that started 0-2 last season--Miami, Minnesota and San Diego--reached the playoffs. But that kind of success is rare. Since 2000, nine of the 78 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.5 percent). Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 30 teams that have started 0-2 made the playoffs, including three Super Bowl winners (1993 Dallas, 2001 New England and 2007 New York Giants). That's one a year. Finally, the Bears, the cornerstone franchise of the league, have never made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Add in the fact that next week's game is at Seattle where the Bears are 1-4 all-time with their last win coming in 1976, the first year of existence for the expansion Seahawks, and this game takes on an added significance if you believe in looking ahead.

Enough with the numbers. Let's get to it. What are keys for the Bears to be successful?

1. The Steelers have been getting some heat for some time. Why don't they run the football more? What happened to the fullback? The fact is, Bruce Arians runs a passing offense that suits his personnel. But after failing to generate any kind of ground game in the opener, the Steelers are going to try to establish success early vs. the Bears. They flat ran over them the last time the teams played in 2005. That was a different offensive line with a different back running behind it in Jerome Bettis. This line outweighs the Bears' front by an average of 47 pounds. The Bears have to stop the run because if Pittsburgh is two-dimensional, Ben Roethlisberger will be very difficult to stop.

2. Be like Hunter. It will be interesting to see if there are subtle differences in the scheme with Hunter Hillenmeyer replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. He knows he can't try to be like Brian. He's not that player. I detailed here for the National Football Post how the change could affect the Bears when it comes to the blitz. The good news for the Bears is Hillenmeyer is probably a better middle linebacker than he is a strong-side linebacker, the position he started at for most of four seasons. The blitz will be key because the Steelers use a spread attack that forces the linemen to play in space. There will be opportunities to pressure Roethlisberger.

3. Safety dance. Lovie Smith was itching to get Danieal Manning in at free safety before training camp started. A pulled hamstring delayed that move. Now, Manning is in position. It's the 18th change in starting free safeties since Smith came on board in 2004. There have been 15 changes at strong safety. Hey, the Bears finally found a position to switch more often than starting quarterback. There is a chart of all the turnover during Smith's era here. Manning needs to curtail some of the glaring assignment errors that have marked his time at the position in the past. The wide open touchdown by Andre Johnson in the season finale last year at Houston comes to mind. The issue here is the team didn't use him at safety once during the offseason. He missed significant time in training camp with a pulled hamstring and he'll be going off classroom instruction more than anything else.

Two changes in the Bears' starting lineup on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be necessitated by injury.

Two more are part of coach Lovie Smith's plan to revamp the secondary, which ranked 30th in the league last season vs. the pass, and surrendered the game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to a wide open Greg Jennings last week at Green Bay.

Danieal Manning has been moved into the starting free safety position, a move Smith tried to make the week before training camp before Manning's pesky hamstring injury foiled those plans. But when Kevin Payne bit on a play fake by Rodgers and abandoned his spot in the deep post to let Jennings go uncontested after cornerback Nathan Vasher slipped, well, most figured something was coming. That's because change isn't really inevitable in the Bears' secondary as it is habitual. This marks the 18th change the Bears have made at free safety in Smith's tenure, a span of 82 games.

"I'm excited,'' Manning said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm quite sure they're going to throw deep a lot, especially me coming back from a hammy injury, they're going to try to go deep."

Manning is the most athletic of the defensive backs, and Smith believes the second-round pick from 2006 has made great strides since being moved into the nickel role last season. Manning has the best range of any safety, and is playing with more instincts now. He sacked Rodgers for a safety at Green Bay. Payne goes to the sideline and rookie sixth-round draft pick Al Afalava will remain the starter at strong safety. When he started last week at Green Bay, that marked the 15th change in starting strong safeties since 2004.

The Bears announced on Thursday that Zack Bowman would take over at cornerback for Vasher. Injuries will sideline middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Hunter Hillenmeyer replaces Urlacher and Nick Roach is expected to start in Tinoisamoa's spot, however he will share reps with Jamar Williams. What happens in the nickel package remains to be seen. Payne could enter the game as the free safety and Manning could slide to nickel, or it could open the door for Corey Graham to get on the field as the nickel.

Bears begin healing process

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Injuries certainly piled up in the opener at Green Bay, but the Bears made a step in the healing practice this afternoon.

They have just taken the practice field and nickel cornerback Danieal Manning (back) and defensive end Mark Anderson (toe) have returned to action in what is expected to be limited duty. That is a positive sign that they will be available Sunday against Pittsburgh. Manning took a shot from linebacker Lance Briggs at Green Bay when they were both closing in on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He slid to avoid the tacklers and Briggs went into Manning with full force.

Left guard Frank Omiyale (ankle) is also expected to be limited in practice, but he was on the field on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (left knee) and strong safety Al Afalava (shoulder) were cleared for a full return after being limited Wednesday.


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