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Chris Williams was told on Wednesday he will be the starting left tackle on Sunday.

Apparently no one has said anything to Kevin Shaffer, but he is the man who is expected to line up at right tackle Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field as Orlando Pace will be sidelined for a little while with a groin muscle injury.

"If that's the case it's something I've been working for all year, starting with training camp and everything and right tackle's my position, I've been at for the last couple years, so that'd be great,'' Shaffer said. "I don't know what the situation is, I really don't. I know today I practiced with the ones, but what it is in the future I don't know.''

The Bears essentially swapped John St. Clair to the Cleveland Browns in free agency for Shaffer, who was released after he refused a pay cut. He had started 79 of the last 80 regular-season games for the Browns and Atlanta Falcons before arriving, and played the last two seasons in Cleveland as the right tackle. Before Pace was signed, it looked like the Bears would line up Shaffer at right tackle and Williams at left tackle.

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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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Tommie Harris unraveled the riddle Monday afternoon after sitting out another day of practice at Olivet Nazarene University.

He's all suited up with nothing to do on the sideline because he's coming off knee surgery and has a hamstring injury. Perhaps tired of dealing with inquiries wondering why he has not been on the field for a week, Harris revealed that he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his bothersome left knee in March. The procedure was done in order to see why it has continued to plague him, and the good news is he said they found on scar tissue. Harris originally had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in January 2008, six months before his $40 million, four-year contract extension.

"I had surgery in March so I didn't get a chance to do a lot of stuff that the teammates were doing, so they're far ahead of me so I'm really just starting to catch up,'' Harris said. "I would love to be out there, but I do so much in the weight room and all the training and all the other stuff that you guys don't see. The hardest thing is, knowing how political this business is, and having to wear pads and sit on the sideline acting like I'm going out there and different stuff like that, but it's a bit frustrating but I'm going to hang in there and just see how it plays out.

Now, Harris says he is on the sideline because he suffered a hamstring injury. That is the kind of thing that can happen when a knee isn't right--a player can then be plagued by muscle problems with the hamstring or quad. Lovie Smith had said Saturday that Harris would practice today.

"I have confidence in myself -- a lot, in my knee, my whole body. I've been playing on one leg and everything. I can play this game, I have confidence. It's a mentality, and that's the hardest thing to go out there and to know, to get your mind ready for a practice or different things that you're used to just going out and having fun. I'm just hanging in there.''

Israel Idonije filled in with the first team at the under tackle, and coach Lovie Smith was vague about a timetable for Harris. He made it clear he wants to wait until his former Pro Bowl performer is healthy, and they need him in September more than they need him in August. But with the pattern of rotating hamstring and knee injuries--remember he had hamstring surgery in December 2006--it's fair to wonder if Harris has the time to get his body right before the season.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Marcus Harrison continues to make progress on the side while on the non-football injury list and the defensive tackle is hopeful he'll be cleared for a return by Saturday when the Bears will practice at Soldier Field during Family Day.

Harrison has missed four practices and one mini-practice thus far with Anthony Adams and Dusty Dvoracek dividing the reps at nose tackle in his absence. Harrison reported to camp at 322, 10 pounds above the weight he said he played at last season. It's a combination of weight and body fat percentage that the team wants him to drop, especially after he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in May.

Some notes from the afternoon session:

The Bears are entering the most difficult days of training camp where their bodies are starting to feel fatigued after five weeks off. The session Monday afternoon probably reflected that somewhat, and quarterback Jay Cutler certainly was not as accurate as he has been, although he did lead the first offense into position for a 53-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the two-minute drills. Some quick notes from the workout:

Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Matt Toeania all returned to work.

Jamar Williams did a nice job taking on fullback Jason Davis in inside run drills.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Joey LaRocque made it through his physical fine on Thursday but he will not make it to the practice field this afternoon.

The Bears released the linebacker this morning according to a source close to the player, a move that will enhance his chances to catch on elsewhere with the Bears having a crowded scene at the position.

A seventh-round pick from Oregon State in 2008, LaRocque was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in Week 3 last season and played in 14 games on special teams. He made nine tackles and was a core member of the unit. A lower back injury prevented him from participating in the offseason program, but he was cleared after arriving at camp and said he felt good.

The Bears have nine linebackers on the training camp roster now starting with projected starters Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa. Behind them are Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jamar Williams, Nick Roach, fifth-round pick Marcus Freeman and undrafted free agents Kevin Malast and Mike Rivera. The team will likely keep six or seven linebackers on the 53-man roster, and having appeared in 14 games, LaRocque is no longer practice squad eligible per NFL rules that mandate players cannot have appeared in more than nine regular-season games.

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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 turn to the linebackers as we get back to our position-by-position previews and breakdowns.

Projected starters: MLB Brian Urlacher, 6-4, 258, 10th season, New Mexico; WLB Lance Briggs, 6-1, 242, 7th season, Arizona; SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, 6-1, 230, 7th season, Hawaii.

Others

Marcus Freeman, 6-1, 239, Rookie, Ohio State
Hunter Hillenmeyer, 6-4, 238, 7th season, Vanderbilt
Joey LaRocque, 6-2, 228, 2nd season, Oregon State
Kevin Malast, 6-2, 233, Rookie, Rutgers
Mike Rivera, 6-2, 245, Rookie, Kansas
Nick Roach, 6-1, 234, 3rd season, Northwestern
Jamar Williams, 6-0, 237, 4th season, Arizona State

Projected depth chart

MLB: Urlacher, Hillenmeyer
WLB: Briggs, Williams, Freeman
SLB: Tinoisamoa, Roach

2009 salary cap numbers

Lance Briggs $6,766,666
Marcus Freeman $355,425
Hunter Hillenmeyer $1,550,000
Joey LaRocque $390,200
Kevin Malast $311,666
Mike Rivera $311,666
Nick Roach $465,200
Pisa Tinoisamoa $1,501,560
Brian Urlacher $10,185,511
Jamar Williams $643,950

Number of linebackers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of linebackers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6 or 7

The skinny: The Bears went into the 2008 season able to trumpet the fact that their starting linebacking corps was entering its fifth consecutive year in tact. Not many teams can talk about having that kind of stability in the middle of their defense, and the Bears can't anymore. Hillenmeyer was replaced by Roach on the strong side during the middle of last season and while nothing has been awarded at this point, all signs point to the newcomer Tinoisamoa winning that job in training camp. That puts Roach out of a starting position and perhaps in line for a major role on special teams, and Hillenmeyer in a spot where he'll have to fight and claw to make the roster. But the strong-side backer has always been the sidekick for the Bears. The strong-side linebacker was on the field 63 percent of the time for the Bears last season (down from 69.2 percent in 2007). The stars are at the other spots where Briggs was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. In franchise history only Mike Singletary (10), Dick Butkus (8) and Bill George (8) have been chosen to more consecutive all-star games from the position. Briggs led the defense in tackles for the second time in his career and had a personal best three interceptions. He plays with great range and is a big reason why the Bears ranked third in the league in pass defense vs. tight ends according to Football Outsiders.

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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.


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Of the top 12 participants on special teams last season, it's probably fair to say only four are guaranteed to have roster spots in 2009. That's life on the bottom-third of the roster, where annual turnover mixes things up. The good news for special teams coordinator Dave Toub is that only one of the 12 players is guaranteed to be gone--linebacker Darrell McClover, whose contract expired. He remains a free agent. The better news for Toub is that he might get more out of defensive lineman Israel Idonije and linebacker Nick Roach.

Idonije saw his playing time on special teams drop from 63 percent in 2007 to 50 percent last season after bulking up. He's dropping to between 265 pounds and 270 pounds and will probably be called on more by Toub. Roach was eighth in special teams snaps with 224 but if Pisa Tinoisamoa wins the starting job on the strong side as expected, Roach would be freed up for more use by Toub. Perhaps he could be molded into another Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former captain and three-time Pro Bowl special teams player.

Linebacker Jamar Williams easily led the team in special teams participation but he's drawn some attention the last few weeks for his work on the field in the offseason program. That work will go a long way toward securing a roster spot for Williams, but that's no guarantee given the logjam the club has at the position now.

The Bears' special teams unit was eighth last season in the composite ranking system used by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. That came on the heels of consecutive first-place finishes. It was the team's fourth top-10 finish under Toub, who joined the staff in Lovie Smith's first season in 2004. Much of the reason given for the drop last year was the turnover and loss of Ayanbadejo. Losing special teams players is something that happens every year in every city. It's far too early to tell how the 53-man roster is going to shake out, but Toub figures to be in pretty good shape. The Bears consistently draft linebackers and defensive backs to stock special teams, and having an established system in place breeds familiarity if not success.

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Need proof the NFL is a year-round business? We've got plenty of football news moving toward mid-June with training camp less than eight weeks away. We're going to get to a Four Down Territory Q&A on Monday, so if you have any last-minute questions to submit, get them in. Let's cover seven issues here in a hurry-up offense:

1. General manager Jerry Angelo addressed the health of former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris last week on the team's Web site. Harris has done occasional on-field work in the voluntary offseason workout program. When media was allowed at Halas Hall last Wednesday, Harris participated in positional drills.

"There's no major concern with him,'' Angelo said. "He's going to be up and going at some point here in the OTA's. We feel good about where he's at medically. There's nothing to be alarmed about. This is the offseason. We want to make sure that we take care of our players to the best of our ability and we're always going to err on the side of caution in the offseason. He's got an issue with his knee; we know that. He has to be smart about it, which he is. We've got to be smart about it, which we are. Is his knee pristine? No. it's not. But it's not something that he can't perform well with. We've been real smart about how to bring Tommie along in terms of his training program. He's not the only player. There are customized programs for most of our players because we don't want the wear and tear to happen during the offseason. We just want to be smart about how we bring our players along. We don't want to waste any mileage that players have in the offseason. The wear and tear comes during the season, not the offseason. The offseason is dedicated to conditioning, strengthening and training our players within our offensive and defensive schemes."

OUR SPIN: Look for Harris' work in training camp to be monitored closely and he could see limited action in preseason too. In the past, coach Lovie Smith has kept him off artificial surfaces in preseason and the Bears open the preseason at Buffalo, which uses an AstroPlay field at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bears are counting on big things from Harris after paying him a $6.67 million roster bonus and they're going to preserve him for when it matters most. The next big payoff in Harris' deal is a $2.5 million roster bonus due June 1, 2010. The club would like his balky left knee to be no worse for the wear then. We wrote it here a while back, don't look for players with questionable injury concerns to land rich deals from the Bears again, not after Angelo's comments about closely scrutinizing medical records when it comes to draft picks.


2. ESPN's Sal Paolontonio
reports that the lawyer for wide receiver Plaxico Burress is maneuvering behind the scenes in efforts to reach a plea deal before Burress' next court appearance in New York on June 15.

"Three teams are believed to be serious enough about considering Burress for the 2009 season that they have contacted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to inquire about his legal status: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets."

OUR SPIN: The Jets and Bucs both had interest in landing quarterback Jay Cutler. Could the Bears beat them to the quarterback and the wide receiver? Obviously, Burress' legal situation needs to be ironed out before anyone is going to offer him a contract, but that process could happen sooner rather than later. He's still likely to face a suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell. How many games Burress would get is anyone's guess. Ex-Bear Tank Johnson received an eight-game suspension following the 2006 season after the raid on his Gurnee home. There was a provision in that suspension that allowed Johnson to be re-instated after six games. Remember, though, Johnson had a previous weapons arrest during his Bears' career. He was busted outside a downtown nightclub for having a weapon in his vehicle.


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Jay Cutler had one pitch on Wednesday at Halas Hall and it will still get some work to get used to apparently.

While the world coming out of Halas Hall the past few weeks has been that the wide receivers have been catching everything in sight, that wasn't the case at the first OTA of the offseason as passes were routinely dropped. Yes, Cutler's fastball arrives with more heat than what the Bears are accustomed to seeing, but it's not like this workout was the first time the team has been around him. If there are push-ups to be done for the drops, the Bears will have a strong group of wide receivers soon.

"It takes a little time to adjust,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "They know they better get their head around and get their hands up because that ball's going to be there."

Overall, the energy level was high with a lot more excitement than the team had say in March at the mandatory minicamp. Most of Cutler's work was done underneath and he said it was good to work against defensive players. Plenty of national media came in for the unveiling of Cutler and all of the focus was on him.

"No, no, not yet,'' Cutler said when asked if it's his team now. "This is a defensive-kind of run team with Brian [Urlacher] and Lance [Briggs] and some of those guys and Olin [Kreutz] offensively. That's going to come in time. You can't rush things like that. You've got to kind of take things in stride and get guys to trust you and have confidence in you and hopefully by Game 1 they're all behind me."

A few notes:

*** Pisa Tinoisamoa, pictured above watching practice today by the Sun-Times' Al Podgorski, visited with plenty of coaches and players alike during practice before going into meetings with coaches and front office personnel after practice. He will be given a physical during his visit.

*** Josh Beekman worked with the starters at left guard but acknowledged he's in a full-fledged competition with Frank Omiyale for the starting job.

*** Craig Steltz lined up with the starters at free safety and Kevin Payne was next to him at strong safety. Ultimately, Steltz will probably push Payne for the starting job.

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If the Bears wind up signing free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will visit Halas Hall today, there is little doubt he will be installed as the starter at strong-side linebacker.

That's figured to be one of the few positions where the organization is going to have wide-open competition for a job come training camp. Nick Roach was promoted over veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer during the middle of last season and that alone probably gives him a leg up on the job right now.

But Tinoisamoa has long been someone Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich have admired. Babich was a rookie position coach in the NFL when Tinoisamoa led the St. Louis Rams in tackles as a rookie second-round pick in 2003. After arriving from St. Louis, Smith and Babich both spoke highly of the player on a regular basis. Now there is an opportunity for a reunion, although Buffalo and Philadelphia are also pursuing the player.

Let's take a closer look at Roach and Hillenmeyer and how their competition sizes up right now because it's unknown if the Bears are prepared to offer Tinoisamoa a contract. Remember, they moved fast when tight end Michael Gaines came for a free-agent visit last week. Tinoisamoa will be in an upbeat atmosphere as the first OTA practice is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. He will be able to watch at practice like the rest of us where fifth-round pick Marcus Freeman and veteran Jamar Williams fit into the scheme. There are some questions to be answered at linebacker.

2008 playing time breakdown

Hunter Hillenmeyer--269 of 1,111 snaps, 24.2 percent

23 tackles, 10 solos, 1 sack, 2 pass defended

Nick Roach--431 of 1,111 snaps, 38.8 percent

40 tackles, 25 solos, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defended

The sample size is not the best to evaluate, and Hillenmeyer was dealing with injuries last season, but the numbers suggest Roach has the ability to make more plays on his own. While Roach made a tackle every 10.8 plays, Hillenmeyer had one every 11.7 plays. There's a broader difference when you look at solo tackles. Roach had 2.5 times as many with a solo every 17 plays. Hillenmeyer made one every 27 plays. Roach has better range and that could explain why. But don't forget the team called Hillenmeyer, who turns 29 this season, it's most "assignment sound" defender not long ago.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Jamar Williams category.

Jamaal Westerman is the previous category.

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