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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.

It's a complex time in the NFL when it comes to the labor issues, and Bears players held a union meeting at the end of the day on Thursday where kicker Robbie Gould and wide receiver Rashied Davis were selected as alternate representatives to the NFLPA.

Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is the team's player rep, and attended the meetings in Hawaii in March when DeMaurice Smith was elected as the executive director of the players association. The vote was needed because Mike Brown and John Tait, both ex-Bears, served roles in the past.

CINCINNATI--Hunter Hillenmeyer will play for the first time since Sept. 27 at Seattle when he suffered two broken ribs.

He is returning to action back at his familiar spot at strong-side linebacker. This will be Hillenmeyer's 50th career start on the strong side. Nick Roach will start at middle linebacker, making his third career start there.

Roach has led the defense in tackles over the last two games with 20 while playing in the middle.

This will be the fifth different combination of starting linebackers the Bears have used this season. Here is a look at how it's gone:

Defensive lineman Israel Idonije practiced again Friday in the Walter Payton Center and said he plans to play Sunday night at Atlanta, which will be 14 days after arthroscopic knee surgery.

A determination on Idonije's availability has not been made yet, though, and he is expected to be a game-time decision for the Bears. He just returned to practice on Thursday on a limited basis.

"I don't know why everyone is saying it is a big deal, two weeks, that was the plan all along for me,'' Idonije said. "I knew in two weeks I would be ready to go.

"I plan on playing. I'll be all right. It felt all right at practice. It feels good. There's no issues."

It is yet to be known what, if anything, Hunter Hillenmeyer will do in practice this morning, but when the Bears were stretching in preparation for the short workout in the Walter Payton Center, the linebacker was in his gear and ready to go.

That doesn't mean he'll necessarily be on the field and participate in drills, but he could and we'll find out soon enough what the case is.

The Bears have said they are hopeful linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer will return from a rib injury suffered on Sept. 27 when they play Sunday at Atlanta, but he is not practicing this morning.

The team just started what will be about a 90-minute practice and Hillenmeyer, defensive lineman Israel Idonije and running back Adrian Peterson were the only players noticeably missing from action when media was permitted to view. Idonije had knee surgery last Monday, and Peterson has a sprained knee.

We knew the Bears were going to use the bye week to try and heal up at wide receiver and linebacker, and now this: defensive lineman Israel Idonije is expected to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery today, a source close to the player said. Idonije has canceled a personal appearance.

Idonije has been on the injury report since the beginning of the season with a knee listed as his ailment, and he was questionable for Sunday's game against Detroit. He played and was credited with a forced fumble and a sack. Idonije was also involved on special teams, but didn't look as quick as usual. By doing the procedure today, there is a chance Idonije will return quickly. While it's unknown the exact reason they are working on his knee, it's not out of the question that he could be back on the field when the Bears play at Atlanta Oct. 18. The bye will certainly help.

Rookie defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert played for the first time against the Lions, and the Bears have added depth with tackle Matt Toeaina, who was inactive. So if Idonije is forced to miss a game or two, there will not be a scramble for bodies. Mark Anderson has been used inside in pass-rushing situations, and there are more than enough bodies to go around.

Three games into the era of Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator, I took a look at the tendencies the team has had using the blitz thus far. ESPN.com put out some interesting numbers earlier in the week showing that the Bears were blitzing more than 47 percent of the time, second-most in the league.

Smith didn't want to talk about tendencies, but said he goes into the game each week with a plan in mind and then adjusts as the game unfolds. If you'll recall, he put the blame on himself for one blitz at Seattle last week. The Seahawks were facing third-and-19 from the Bears' 39-yard line, and Smith called the blitz. Seneca Wallace dumped a little screen pass into the flat to Julius Jones and he broke an arm tackle try by cornerback Charles Tillman along the sideline to scoot all the way to the end zone. The Bears rushed six on the play--linemen Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris and Israel Idonije, linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer and free safety Kevin Payne. Right end Mark Anderson dropped into coverage. There was minimal pressure but plenty of open space for Jones. With long odds for the Seahawks to pick up 19 yards, Smith probably wishes he would have been more conservative.

It's a zone pressure similar to what was diagrammed here at the National Football Post by Matt Bowen, who played safety in the league under Smith in St. Louis. One of the first blitzes Smith installed when he got to St. Louis was "Storm." Bowen does a great job of taking you through the X's and O's and explaining how and why the play works. He details the responsibilities in coverage.

All indications are that Hunter Hillenmeyer did not suffered a fractured rib in Sundays victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Hillenmeyer was originally injured on a run play in the second quarter, and then he tried to continue playing before taking two more hits in the same area on his torso.

He was examined at Qwest Field, and in cases like this the team always gives the player an X-ray. Following the game, a source said the injury was not that serious, and coach Lovie Smith backed that up today at his press conference.

"We'll see how that plays out the rest of the week, hopefully he'll be able to go [Sunday vs. Detroit],'' Smith said. ``It isn't as serious as [tight end Desmond Clark's] injury, so hopefully we'll get good news on that front.''

Clark suffered a fractured rib in the opener at Green Bay, but he returned to practice for limited duty on Friday, and it's his hope that he will play vs. the Lions after missing just two weeks. Still, the Bears are going to have to consider adding some help at the position. They are razor thin at linebacker. Pisa Tinoisamoa will probably test out his sprained right knee in practice this week, and there is a possibility he will return to action against Detroit. Like Clark, he was injured in the opener. But when Hillenmeyer went down, the Bears were left with only one reserve linebacker--recently signed Tim Shaw. Nick Roach moved from strong side to the middle, and Jamar Williams took over at strong side.

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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.

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The question has come in multiple e-mails, via Twitter, text message and personal e-mails.

Why can't Brian Urlacher heal up a little after surgery this morning, get a cast put on his right wrist and return to action in a month or so? It's a good question, and a fair question.

Cornerback Nathan Vasher and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer both underwent wrist surgeries last season and returned to action. Vasher took a little longer than anyone expected, but still 1 1/2 months would be far better than losing the middle linebacker for the season. Heck, having him return for the second half of the season would be a huge boost. But it's not possible after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve to make room for Tim Shaw, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract and will sign the deal Tuesday pending a physical.

The reason Urlacher was placed on IR is because of the bone he injured. He dislocated the lunate bone, according to the Bears, and that is the bone that is at the center of the wrist, at the middle of the eight bones. It holds the wrist together, and the risk in not treating the injury immediately, or coming back before the injury is completely healed is significant. It could lead to permanent nerve damage and that could affect Urlacher's hand long term.


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There is throwing darts against the wall, taking a stab at something, giving it the ol' college try and taking a shot in the dark.

Somewhere amongst those exercises falls my effort to select the Bears' 53-man roster before it is selected by the men who make the decisions--Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and their staffs. The best guess after evaluating training camp, preseason, past history and everything else that goes into trying to enter another man's mind will appear in Thursday's edition of the Sun-Times. We'll lay it out here on Thursday for continued discussion, a much worthier topic than what you're actually looking forward to seeing in the preseason finale vs. the Cleveland Browns. Final cuts, by the way, are due to the league office by 5 p.m. Saturday.

But I'll list some bubble players here, some that made my 53 and others who didn't:

Offense

Adrian Peterson: A coach once called the veteran running back a security blanket for his ability to stick around. He doesn't do anything particularly well where he jumps out at you, but he does everything the right way and is about as reliable a player as you will find on the roster. In my estimation, a roster spot comes down to him and tight end Michael Gaines (more on that in a little bit). Peterson ran hard and ran well last Sunday in Denver, prompting one scout from another organization to inquire about what kind of guy he is. If the Bears let Peterson go, he's likely to find work elsewhere. The obvious plus to keeping a player like Peterson is his ability on special teams, but he wasn't quite as strong in that phase last season as he was in previous years.

Devin Aromashodu: From the looks of things there are three wide receiver battling for two roster spots. Yes, it strikes me as odd that the team that gets off the bus running is going to keep six wide receivers, but that's what happens when they draft three and plan to keep two--Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox. Aromashodu has the least special teams value of the wide receivers on the bubble, at least based on his use in preseason. But he's a big target who Jay Cutler started referencing early in training camp before anyone knew who he was. When Aromashodu is on the field, Cutler looks his way. if the quarterbacks gets a vote, and boy we know he'd like one, he sticks.

Rashied Davis: Of the wideouts who circulate through with the first team, none got less action than Davis. He's trying to regain some momentum after a 2008 season in which he was used completely out of position by the coaching staff. Davis simply hasn't done much on offense and Cutler has not thrown a pass to him in preseason. But if you were starting to cross him off your list, he made tackles on the first two special teams plays of the game at Denver. Davis also has experience in the slot, even if Earl Bennett is getting most of the work there right now, especially in some of the packages where tight end Greg Olsen is flexed out wide.

Brandon Rideau: He opened the preseason as the No. 3 wide receiver on the depth chart and he's remained in that spot as he was the first one off the sideline when the Bears went to three at Denver. But Cutler has not looked his way like he has Aromashodu. Rideau, however, scores points because he's been more active on special teams than Aromashodu. They are both about the same size and offer something different for the quarterback in the system.


Michael Gaines: Signed to be a blocking tight end and an H-back who could also line up in the backfield, Gaines just hasn't gotten a lot of action in preseason. It's hard to justify keeping four tight ends on the roster unless there is going to be a specific duty for each one on Sundays. Typically, the Bears keep a fourth tight end for practice purposes on the practice squad, and the expectation is they will do that again this year. Gaines could help, though, because Jason McKie is the only fullback expected to make the roster. Having Gaines would give the team some flexibility if they needed help at the position during a game.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Hunter Hillenmeyer category.

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