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Charles Tillman, who left Sunday's blowout in Minnesota with a concussion, is back on the snowy practice field this afternoon, four days after suffering the head injury.

That means Tillman passed with flying colors the stricter guidelines handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday. It was the second lopsided loss that Tillman has pulled himself out of this season. He left the Arizona game with a shoulder injury, and there were at least two games that he didn't finish in 2008. But he usually returns to play the next week.

As expected, defensive end Alex Brown returned from his calf injury, and is also practicing. He has played in a team-high 122 consecutive games. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) is also a full go.

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.

Early returns on Pro Bowl fan balloting don't support the Bears.

Not surprisingly, there are Minnesota Vikings leading or among the leaders at many positions.

When you win, your fans show up at the polls (with multiple ballots). But the Bears' skid of late has kept their supporters away from the polls, so far.

In the first numbers released by the league, the Bears have three players among the leading vote getters at their position:

Center Olin Kreutz, 5th

Returner Devin Hester, 3rd

Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, 5th

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.

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.

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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.

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Blue.

It's the color that every personnel man in the National Football League wants to see.

Blues are what define winning organizations. They are the difference between winning and losing on Sundays. Blues shines brightest in the biggest moments. Blues command the biggest paychecks. Blues are what the game is all about.

Mike Lombardi
at the National Football Post spent the last few weeks breaking down what blue players are on every roster in the league. First, let's let him describe what a blue is. He should know. He spent more than two decades in front offices in Oakland, Cleveland. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Denver.

"Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league. Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game. Not one player can take him out of the game. Each week he has a consistent level of performance. Plays at a championship level performance. He rates in the top ten at his position in the league."

Here is how he assessed the Bears:

Blue chip

Jay Cutler: He's a blue player, now he needs to be a blue winner.
Matt Forte: Does it all--run, catch, protect--very well.
Devin Hester: Not sure he's a blue player, but he's a blue playmaker.

Almost, but not blue

Brian Urlacher: If blockers get to him, he's blocked, so he's not a blue.
Lance Briggs: No one on the Bears' defense is a blue.

It's an interesting take. Certainly Urlacher has not been on top of his game the last two seasons, and Lombardi isn't the only trained eye to make that assessment. Briggs fails to make the cut also and he's been to four consecutive Pro Bowls. I took a look at the outside linebackers who were included on the list and I think it's easy to see what Lombardi was seeking. He wanted outside linebackers who get to the quarterback.

Here is his list of blues at the position:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Joey Porter, Miami
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay

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.

We're going to reach into the mailbag for some Four Down Territory before camp gets going. There aren't any major issues hanging in the balance. A year ago, you had Brian Urlacher's contract getting done just before camp and Devin Hester seeking a new contract. In the past, there was a Thomas Jones stakeout to see if he was going to show up. First-round picks have been far from signed at this point in previous years. All is quiet now. The Bears are just getting ready for football. Here we go.

Q: I read your preview for the wide receivers and you don't seem to be giving them much of a chance. Why? I see a talented group of young wide receivers and there's no reason to believe they can't flourish. Eddie Royal was a second-round pick. Brandon Marshall was a fourth-round pick. Shouldn't these guys get a chance with Jay Cutler?

Michael, Parts Unknown

A: The Bears found a talented and productive wide receiver in the third round of the 2004 draft when they selected Bernard Berrian out of Fresno State. Otherwise, the club's track record at the position under general manager Jerry Angelo is a series of misses, some bigger than others. It happens to be one of the more difficult positions to evaluate for the draft, and as Angelo has pointed out previously, the majority of the true No. 1 wideouts in the league are, guess what, first-round picks. The Bears haven't tried a wide receiver in the first round since David Terrell in 2001, and that was two months before Angelo came aboard. We're not suggesting the Bears will be unable to find help from their rookies and unproven players at the position, we're simply pointing out that after Devin Hester and Rashied Davis, that is the only thing the Bears have to lean on. If they try enough players, one of them might work. Bringing in a veteran with marginal and eroding talent would prevent a possible talent from blossoming. All of these players have a different tool box and it will be interesting to see which one(s) step forward in the three weeks of camp.


Q: Is there a veteran on the roster that will be in jeopardy of being cut? Maybe a surprise cut that could be coming?

Alex, Gurnee

A: I don't know if there are any major surprises coming. Sure, there will be some healthy competition for spots at the back end of the roster, but this team is pretty well set. There is not going to be a lot of turnover in the starting lineups and that's usually where you get your surprise cuts. There aren't any players carrying bad contracts that the team will want to unload. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer will be in a tough spot, particularly if he's still hampered in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia. If healthy, he deserves an opportunity to be on the roster. Running back Adrian Peterson could be pushed for a spot as it's expected the Bears will at least consider going with three running backs. Even though Rashied Davis is the only wide receiver other than Devin Hester with real NFL experience, he'll probably need to perform well. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has become Mike Brown without the long history of production the former safety had. He'll be pushed and he has to stay healthy. No one is guaranteeing jobs for tight end Michael Gaines or safety Josh Bullocks. None of these strike as potential surprise cuts. All could have a role on the 2009 team.


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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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Missing: The Bears' pass rush.

If found, please bring to the Weber Center on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University by midnight July 30, you know, so the defense can have its identity back in time for training camp.

The disappearance of the Bears' pass rush, particularly from its front four, was an issue that could not be solved last season when the team registered 28 sacks, the lowest total in five seasons under Lovie Smith. Since expanding to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bears have had less than 28 sacks just once, in 2003.

The lack of a pass rush has been conveniently placed at the feet of defensive tackle Tommie Harris by some and that's entirely unfair. No, Harris didn't make it to the Pro Bowl last season but to finger him as the reason for the rush being stuck in rush hour wouldn't be accurate.

Football Outsiders provides an interesting graphic in their Football Outsiders Almanac, and on the surface at least it places the blame elsewhere. Consider this information from Football Outsiders on the distribution of sacks for the Bears over the last three seasons:

Year Pass Attempts DE sacks DT sacks LB/DB sacks Total QB hits per pass

2006 581 25.5 10.5 4 40 14.8 percent

2007 541 18.5 9.5 12 40 13.6 percent

2008 622 12 10.5 4.5 28* 12.4 percent

* On their official statistics the Bears had one sack awarded to "group."

Harris made five sacks last season, tying him for second on the defense, one behind Alex Brown. Harris made a career-high eight sacks in 2007 and had five in 2006. His sack totals--and the numbers produced by the defensive tackles--have remained consistent over the three-year period.

The difference between 28 sacks in 2008 and 40 sacks in 2006? How about Mark Anderson? The defensive end made one sack last season. He had 12 in 2006. Those 11 missing sacks would have given the Bears 39 last season.

"Besides the presence of Mark Anderson at the bottom?'' Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell said when asked what struck him in his evaluation of the Bears' defensive line. "That jumps out to me. Otherwise, probably Alex Brown's pass-rushing numbers. Not just the sacks, but we also track hits and hurries."

In statistics detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac, Brown was credited with 11 hits and 11 hurries. Combined with six sacks, that means he affected the quarterback 28 times, three more than the next closest Bear, Adewale Ogunleye (5 sacks, 4 hits, 16 hurries). Brown's 11 hits tied for 17th in the league. Anderson had one sack, four hits and six hurries. Harris had five hits and seven hurries.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Lance Briggs category.

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