The Bears will fill an opening on their practice squad today with tight end Kevin Brock, his agent Dennis Boyev said.
Brock, a Rutgers product, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers, was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets in August and spent six weeks on the practice squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season.
He was a part-time starter for the Scarlet Knights last season and made 23 receptions for 241 yards in the final nine games last season. The 6-5, 255-pounder began his college career as a wide receiver.
All Greg Olsen had to do was ask Jay Cutler to come in style for Sunday's game against the Lions, and the quarterback agreed.
Cutler and Olsen will be among a handful of Bears, including linebacker Lance Briggs, who will wear pink as part of the NFL's "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives" breast cancer awareness campaign. There will be pink cleats, like the fancy one I snapped a picture of with the camera on the Blackberry, pink wrist bands, pink towels, pink hats, and pink C's on the jerseys for the captains. There might be even more pink, just no pink footballs.
Olsen's mother Sue Olsen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and is a survivor.
"I know it means a lot to Greg with his mom,'' Cutler said. "So he asked me probably a month ago if I'd wear the pink cleats. It should be interesting."
It does mean a lot to Olsen, who has talked openly about his family's situation since the Bears drafted him in the first round in 2007.
"I think it's great what the NFL is doing,'' Olsen said. "They've really picked it up even more so than last year. They've got a lot of cool things I think the fans are going to get a kick out of. Anything you can do with the platform we have and the amount of eyes that are watching our games, the amount of opportunities we have are endless. So we have a few cool things with the cleats and the gloves and what not but the bottom line we have to go out and play well but at the same time we also have a few things that will make it fun and pay our respects and do anything we can to help the cause.
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.
Tight end Desmond Clark will have to heal from a cracked rib before he can get back on the field for the Bears.
Clark was injured at the end of a 23-yard catch in the third quarter Sunday night at Lambeau Field when he was hit from behind by reserve safety Aaron Rouse. Clark was taken to a hospital in Green Bay before returning to the stadium. He said on Monday that he was fine, but this is the kind of injury that could keep him on the sideline for a while. The Bears are fortunate because they were one of six teams to open the season with four tight ends, and Michael Gaines, who was inactive at Green Bay, will be able to fill in. Kellen Davis, the second-year player from Michigan State, will have to step up also.
"I'm sore right now,'' Clark said on his radio show on Voice America Sports. "It hurts. I'm grimacing when I move.''
I don't know, but my efforts to tweet from the dorm room have been stifled by struggling technology. Perhaps the site will be up and chirping by the time this post is done.
Reports coming out of San Diego now are that Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers could begin talking about a new contract for him soon. Rivers is believed to have been waiting for Eli Manning to strike. Although Manning has a Super Bowl title to his credit, and that's what it is all about, Rivers' statistics over the course of their careers are far superior. Don't think for a second there is any reason other than that for his delay in getting to the bargaining table.
Wanted to Twitter a piece I did for the National Football Post this morning on Jay Cutler and what at some point will be his own negotiation for a contract extension. The Bears have never written the big-money deal for a quarterback before. Since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2001, no team has allocated less money to the position. Who did he have to pay? The team has someone to pay now but putting a gauge on that pay day right now is very difficult. When the team goes to a player, they are adamant that the integrity of the current contract be maintained. In other words, the player will get his money but the team isn't going to rip up the current contract and start all over.
The Bears have a history of approaching players during season to see if they can strike a deal and get ahead when it comes to the salary cap. If a deal is done by midseason, money can be applied to the current year's cap. With the Bears sitting on more than $20 million in cap room, doing a Cutler deal now would allow them to put a nice chunk in 2009. Assuming the CBA gets worked out--that looks like the assumption the Giants went under in doing Manning's deal--it's a smart move.
But it's no guarantee that the team and Cutler get to the bargaining table. If they don't, it's possible the Bears could target tight end Greg Olsen for an extension as I wrote here for the NFP. Olsen is entering the third year of his five-year contract and is clearly part of the long term future. Early restructures turn into win-wins. The player gets guaranteed money sooner than he would, and the team gets value moving forward.
It's been alternating between drizzle and light rain this afternoon with a little bit of wind. Welcome to August.
The Bears will put on pads this evening for the first time, and it should be a good practice to watch. If you're planning on attending, you better show up early. There are only so many seats in the stadium and the rest are left to jockey for position around the outside of the track. Danieal Manning is expected to be in action so he'll get his first time at free safety this year. Josh Beekman started with the first team on Friday and our guess--just a guess--is that Frank Omiyale may see time with the ones at left guard this evening. Stay tuned.
*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen takes a look at tight end Greg Olsen and one way the Bears can deploy him more this season.
"When the Bears align Olson as a wide receiver, a safety will be put over him -- usually in off-coverage -- on Olson's outside shoulder, as his help will be toward the middle of the field. What this does for the Bears is allow Olson to run a multiple of inside breaking routes and use his big body to shield the defender from the football. We saw some of this last season in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's weekly game plans, but with Cutler now at quarterback, the ball will come out faster and it will be on target. Expect Olson to be Cutler's No.1 option in 2009."
*** Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson suffered a sprained MCL in practice this morning. No word how serious is is right now. Maybe the Bears can use an open roster spot to sign Brett Favre as a backup before the Vikings re-enter the picture for him. OK. We were just kidding.
Devin Aromashodu $465,200
Earl Bennett $595,409
John Broussard $390,200
Rashied Davis $1,581,666
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Juaquin Iglesias $554,900
Derek Kinder $319,416
Johnny Knox $361,060
Eric Peterman $310,666
Brandon Rideau $465,200
Number of wide receivers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6
Projected number of wide receivers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6
The skinny: From general manager Jerry Angelo on down the Bears know they don't have this position where it needs to be. Angelo acknowledged the Bears would have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver had they not traded the pick to acquire Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to trade for Anquan Boldin when the draft began. Finally, the Bears did enough snooping around on Plaxico Burress to earn their Jr. Inspector Clouseau badge. Think right about now Burress wishes now he'd done his couple months in the pokey? It looks highly unlikely that Burress will help Cutler and the Bears this season and that puts the onus on Cutler to make some of these players better. Ideally, the Bears would be in a situation where they would only keep five receivers on the roster, but if Iglesias (third round) and Knox (fifth round) earn roster spots, as expected, they'll probably need to try to cover for the inexperience with numbers. Say what you want, and we're not demeaning any of the players at this position, but it's a quantity over quality matter here. Quite frankly, that could help Rideau in his bid to win a job.
So how much better can Cutler make the Bears' receivers? There is certainly something to a quarterback making a wide receiver better but he's not the difference between Eddie Royal's 91 catches as a rookie last season in Denver and Bennett's 0 catches as a rookie last season. Cutler isn't going to clone Brandon Marshall in the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms, either. He can make the receivers better and that starts with them developing a trust and a rapport. Cutler has to know what the receiver is going to do before he does it. That comes with reps, lots of them.
Continuing with our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the tight ends.
Projected starter: Desmond Clark, 6-3, 249, 11th season, Wake Forest OR Greg Olsen, 6-5, 255, 3rd season, Miami
Kellen Davis 6-7, 262, 2nd season, Michigan State
Michael Gaines 6-2, 267, 6th season, Central Florida
Fontel Mines 6-4, 244, 1st season, Virginia
Projected depth chart
Clark or Olsen, Gaines, Davis
2009 salary cap numbers
Desmond Clark $2,173,946
Kellen Davis $432,188
Michael Gaines $1,162,600
Fontel Mines $315,200
Greg Olsen $1,501,450
Number of tight ends on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3
Projected number of tight ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3 or 4
The skinny: Olsen has been Jay Cutler's unofficial sightseeing partner in his introduction to Chicago and he might just become his best friend on the field. The former first-round draft pick was second behind only running back Matt Forte on the team in receptions and led the club with five touchdown catches, scoring three of them in the final four weeks of the year when he had 20 of his 54 catches. That kind of production down the stretch--five grabs a game--is closer to what the Bears have in mind for this season. His 54 catches in 2008 ranked 10th among tight ends in the league and to join the elite at the position he'll need to add 20. He's also going to have to improve on his yards per catch. Of the 10 tight ends with more grabs than Olsen, eight had a greater YPC than his of 10.6. The only players below Olsen were Washington's Chris Cooley (83 catches, 10.2 YPC) and Tennessee's Bo Scaife (58 catches, 9.7 YPC). If you recall, Scaife caught 10 passes vs. the Bears on Nov. 9.
But Olsen is hardly the only part of the show. Clark made 16 starts last season while Olsen had seven, all coming when the offense opened in a double tight end formation. Clark is a superior run blocker and that fact alone may keep him in the starting lineup. He remains a productive outlet receiver but isn't going to stretch the defense and create the kind of matchup problems that Olsen presents vs. linebackers and defensive backs. That is what becomes interesting, how do teams choose to cover Olsen? We broke down playing time at the position earlier in the offseason and even though Clark was the full-time starter it didn't make anything more than a marginal difference. He was on the field 78.16 percent of the time compared to 76.68 for Olsen.
The biggest moves the Bears made on defense, or at least the ones getting the most attention, were the changes on the coaching staff. Rod Marinelli's addition as the defensive line coach will create some storylines during training camp, and I think a lot of people are interested to watch the drill work he does with his players on the side. Lovie Smith's role as play caller will come more into focus when the season begins.
But we bounced the two biggest personnel changes on defense off Bill Barnwell when we spoke to the managing editor of Football Outsiders about the upcoming season. Their mean projection gives the Bears a 49 percent chance to have 11 or more victories, and that was the highest figure for any NFC club. It can all be found in the Football Outsiders Almanac, which will be available on Amazon.com in a few weeks and can be ordered in PDF format from their Web site.
First, we asked Barnwell about the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is projected to be the starter on the strong side after signing a one-year contract. St. Louis cut the veteran loose after the Rams failed in their bid to trade him. He became the first rookie in Rams' franchise history to lead the defense in tackles when he played the position for Smith and Bob Babich in 2003.
"It really depends on Tinoisamoa and how he fits into their scheme and how quickly he catches up on things,'' Barnwell said. "I understand he's had experience in the system in the past. He was playing for the Rams. The Rams didn't have a great defense last season. You look at his run numbers and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage, they were coming well down the field. The defense wasn't good and his numbers were not very good. You have to put the scheme in context. It's not like baseball where if a guy is going to hit 40 home runs in one city he's going to hit 40 home runs in another city. He could be better this season.''
What Football Outsiders does is study each play and they look at a statistic they call the "stop rate" and average yards for running plays when the linebacker was credited with making the tackle. It's not a perfect system but they have other stats, one of which is called "defeats," defined as the total number of plays they stop the offense from gaining first down on third or fourth down, or make a play behind the line of scrimmage or create a turnover.
Tinoisamoa, who played weak side in St. Louis last season, was credited with 48 stops, 32 fewer than Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa ranked 93rd out of 99 total linebackers vs. the run. But as Barnwell pointed out, these statistics are drawing from small sample sizes and they can change from year to year. Switch teams and defenses and it is not going to be the same. Tinoisamoa will have more talent around him this season and it's reasonable to expect he'll be a different player. Of course, the Bears thought Adam Archuleta was coming to a more talented defense when he left Washington for the Bears. That didn't work out so well for Archuleta or the Bears.
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 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.
It's been a while since we went through the mailbag so we'll knock out more than four questions this morning in Four Down Territory as we take a little break from the position-by-position previews that have been running in our 30-day countdown to Bourbonnais. Here we go.
Q: What about a contract extension for Danieal Manning? He's slated to have an uncanny season at kick returner which means, of course, that the Bears will need the extra money to give him an extension and convert him to wide receiver.
Mike, Parts Unknown
A: Looks like we have a jokester here. Is that Manning switch right after Brian Urlacher is moved to free safety and Chris Zorich is re-signed to play middle linebacker? It's a good question when it comes to Manning. Not sure what he is going to have to do to have an "uncanny" season. Manning would have made the Pro Bowl last season if he had replaced Devin Hester as the kickoff returner about a month prior to the move that was made in Week 11. He averaged 29.7 yards per return, the club's highest total in nearly 35 years, and became only the fifth player in franchise history to top 1,000 yards for a season. Now, consider first that Manning didn't see all of the gimmicks (bloops, squibs, sky kicks, you name it) that Hester did when he was the primary kickoff returner. Opponents will likely pay more attention to Manning this coming season but special teams coordinator Dave Toub is quick to adjust and his schemes have proven the test of time. Defensively, Manning was on the field one-third of the time in 2008, getting 370 snaps out of the 1,111 total. He seemed to make progress as a nickel back, particularly in the second half of the season. Manning was in that role during the spring until a hamstring injury, one of many suffered on the roster, sidelined him and Corey Graham took his place for the last two weeks of OTA's. It looks like Manning will remain in that role entering training camp but if Nathan Vasher nails down the right cornerback job and Craig Steltz winds up being the free safety, the coaching staff might give Graham more of a look at nickel, where he played one game last season. Is there a possibility the club re-signs Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract? Sure. He probably should have been on the list of players we made. But a kickoff returner who does or does not double as a nickel corner isn't going to get a huge contract.
Q: You didn't mention Lance Louis in your preview of the fullbacks. Is there a reason why? Didn't the Bears say he could play tight end as well as fullback when they selected him?
Oscar T., Chicago
A: There is a somewhat popular notion that Lance Louis will reprise the role of William Perry and do some heavy duty work in the backfield. We don't see it happening. We don't see Louis playing any tight end, either. The Bears don't have a spot at tight end for him with Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Michael Gaines. They don't need a project at the position because they already have one in Davis. Louis, who was issued No. 60, which is an ineligible number, is going to have a hard time making the roster as a seventh-round pick. He'd have an even more difficult time making the 45-man gameday roster, and it's unlikely he'd be active for a possible gimmick play involving him lining up at an eligible position.