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The Bears have made it official with a series of moves today to reach the 53-man roster limit before proceeding to the start of the 2009 season. The players will get back to work with practice Monday at Halas Hall. Here are the moves reported on the team's Web site:

CB Charles Tillman was promoted from the physically unable to perform list to the active roster

RB Kevin Jones was placed on inured reserve with a torn ligament in his left ankle

DE Henry Melton was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury

S Dahna Deleston was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury

Melton's ankle injury was not believed to be serious and it could be a way to stash the fourth-round pick from Texas on the squad for a year. The problem is he cannot practice while on IR so the only work he can do is in the classroom and weight room. This marks the third time in four years the Bears have placed at least one draft pick on IR prior to the opening of the season. It could be concerns about depth on the interior of the line cost him a spot as the Bears kept tackle Matt Toeaina, who right now figures to be third in the rotation at nose tackle.

Here are the official cuts:

QB Brett Basanez
FB Jason Davis
FB Will Ta'ufo,ou
WR Eric Peterman
WR Brandon Rideau
G Johan Asiata
OT Cody Balogh
G Dan Buenning
C Donovan Raiola
DE Ervin Baldwin
DE Joe Clermond
LB Marcus Freeman
LB Kevin Malast
LB Darrell McClover
LB Mike Rivera
CB Rudy Burgess
CB Rod Hood
CB Marcus Hamilton
CB Woodny Turenne

We took a look at the breakdown of playing time on special teams on Monday, and today we're going to tackle how the playing time was divided in the secondary last season. Obviously, the big piece the Bears are trying to replace is veteran safety Mike Brown, who is expected to visit the Cleveland Browns after a free-agent trip to Kansas City last week.

Corey Graham has been shifted from cornerback to safety, and Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks are also in the mix. Graham ranked fourth in playing time in the secondary last season, so he has ample experience on the field for a player entering his third season.

Here is the breakdown:

TOTAL DEFENSIVE PLAYS: 1,111

SS/FS Kevin Payne 1,101 of 1,111, 99.1 percent, 16/16 starts/games
CB Charles Tillman 948 of 1,111, 85.3 percent, 15/15 starts/games
FS/SS Mike Brown 924 of 1,111, 83.2 percent, 15/15 starts/games
CB Corey Graham 714 of 1,111, 64.3 percent, 9/16 starts/games
CB Nathan Vasher 438 of 1,111, 39.4 percent, 7/8 starts/games
CB/S Danieal Manning 370 of 1,111 33.3 percent, 1/14 starts/games
S Craig Steltz, 141 of 1,111, 12.7 percent, 0/11 starts/games
CB Trumaine McBride, 93 of 1,111, 8.4 percent, 1/16 starts/games
CB Marcus Hamilton, 46 of 1,111, 4.1 percent, 0/8 starts/games
CB Zack Bowman, 20 of 1,111, 1.8 percent, 0/1 starts/games

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The Bears have kicked the tires of two veteran cornerbacks now and both have signed elsewhere after news this morning out of Cleveland that Rod Hood is expected to sign with the Browns.

Prior to the draft, the club brought in Ken Lucas after he was cut loose in Carolina. Eventually, he returned to his former home in Seattle.

From the looks of things the Bears at least investigated Hood, who looked like a fit as a veteran with plenty of starting experience and good size at 5-11, 198 pounds, because Corey Graham is being shifted to free safety. Hood could have instantly provided an insurance policy as a No. 3 cornerback and worked behind Danieal Manning as the nickel back at a position where there is no such thing as too much insurance.

It will be interesting to see if the Bears continue to take a look at the market for available corners because while their depth chart shows plenty of bodies at the position, there are some legitimate health concerns with half of the bunch. We'll elaborate shortly. Ex-Bear Ricky Manning Jr. remains on the open market. While picking up his game tickets at a Tampa hotel days prior to the Super Bowl, Manning said he would not rule out a return to the Bears, and despite a rocky ending with the Bears, he left on classy terms. That seems unlikely. Chris McAlister is on the street. He is still rehabbing a knee injury and although reports indicate he'll be cleared for a return to football activities by late June, is he someone a team could count on going into the season? Bringing in someone with injury issues to back players with injury issues might just clutter the training room. McAlister also had run-ins last season with Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Aaron Glenn, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Ty Law and another ex-Bear, R.W. McQuarters, are some other corners with high mileage that are available.

Maybe none of them are tempting. Maybe there is one out there the Bears will take a good look at. As we wrote last week, just remember back to Chris Thompson vs. Steve Smith in the 2005 playoff loss to Carolina for a refresher on what a thinned out depth chart at cornerback can look like on a bad day. Some have blamed the last-second loss at Atlanta in 2008, at least partially, on Marcus Hamilton's poor play covering Michael Jenkins. Wherever you want to lay the blame--and in this case there were plenty of choices--the Bears were dealing with inexperienced cornerback play.

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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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Bears president Ted Phillips and general manager Jerry Angelo were clear about one thing at the start of the offseason--any tightening of the belt at Halas Hall in the wake of the economic downturn was not going to have an effect on the football budget and how they do business.

Phillips made the point in February when discussing the organization's decision to freeze ticket prices at Soldier Field. Angelo echoed those sentiments later that month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Fast forward to mid-May and the Bears have $20.8 million remaining under the salary cap according to figures obtained by the Sun-Times on Monday. That makes them one of six teams in the league with more than $20 million available. It was announced last week that a final adjustment to the salary camp for 2009 raised it to $127.997 million. The Bears' adjusted cap for this season is $135.9 million, the result of a number of factors, including the Marcus Hamilton likely-to-be-earned incentive that gave the club a credit from last season.

Here are the top six in terms of available space:

Tampa Bay $37 million
Kansas City $31.8 million
Green Bay $29.4 million
San Francisco $26.4 million
Philadelphia $23.1 million
Bears $20.8 million

So, the question is what do to with the money? Angelo recently joked that it's not like he has a $20 bill burning a hole through his pocket. He was asked directly about the possibility of some extensions on Sunday at the team's fan expo.

"I think we were unprecedented in terms of all the people we did extensions with,'' Angelo said of last year. ``So in part that made fewer players come up, but those that do well, we'll definitely do what we've always done in the past. I've always said this, 'They take care of their business and business takes care of itself.'''

The Bears were so pro-active in signing players who were coming out of contract last year that there really are not that many to choose from. We detailed the list of free-agents-to-be in discussing the ramifications of an uncapped year here.

Need No. 5--Cornerback

Players on roster

CB Charles Tillman (signed through 2013)
CB Nathan Vasher (2012)
CB Corey Graham (2010)
CB Trumaine McBride (2010)
CB Marcus Hamilton (2009)
CB Rudy Burgess (2010)
CB Danieal Manning (2009)
CB Zack Bowman (2011)

Need

If things go the way the Bears are hoping with new secondary coach Jon Hoke, this will be a position of strength with the players already on the depth chart. Tillman is still recovering from shoulder surgery in January and his health must be watched. The belief is he will be fine. He's always been such a rugged addition to the run defense that you wonder if his second shoulder surgery as a pro will affect the way he plays. Vasher went into Lovie Smith's doghouse last season but he was running with the starters in minicamp. That was because Tillman and McBride were both out rehabilitating injuries. Vasher is intent on fighting his way back into a starting role and he looked to be in good position. It looks like he'll get more of an opportunity than last year's cast off in the secondary, Ricky Manning Jr., and Vasher has earned that right.

The Bears have announced that cornerback Marcus Hamilton has signed his one-year tender as an exclusive rights free agent.

Hamilton will earn $385,000 this season.

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Another exciting day of free agency is ahead of us. Let's get right into the action.

Q: Jason Taylor just got released from Washington. What are the chances the Bears would consider him as a one- or two-year stop-gap measure as a left end? Adewale Ogunleye is the Bears' most productive end right now as far as rushing the passer, but given the choice between the two, I would take Taylor, who has gotten it done for several years prior to being moved to outside linebacker in the 3-4. As a 4-3 end, there are few that can match his initial quickness off the ball, and his overall athleticism. His decline in production I think is more related to taking him away from the quarterback, not from any loss of talent or work.

Joe F., Parts Unknown:

A: That seems to be the popular thing to do this offseason, find a name player on the market and discuss whether or not he will wear a blue helmet with a C on the side of it this coming season. You don't have to think twice about this one, Joe. Taylor and the Redskins were in negotiations where the team said it was willing to maintain his salary for this season of $8.5 million provided he found the time to go to work in Ashburn, Va., for 75 percent of the offseason program, or roughly eight of the 13 weeks it's in operation. Mind you, this is a player who skipped workouts last offseason to participate in a television dancing show.

Now, let's think about that for a minute. Taylor isn't going to show up for eight weeks and then play during the season for $8.5 million? Does that sound for a second like a player the Bears would consider? They're embarking on what, to date, appears to be the most significant offseason program since the first once Lovie Smith ran in 2004. He's moved up the starting date to March 16--the very first day teams are allowed to begin this activity. He's setting the tone for not just the offseason program but the season itself and the first minicamp practice at Halas Hall is two weeks from today.

We're running behind again today, but the mail has arrived in time to deliver Four Down Territory. Let's get into it.

Q: It looks to me like Max Starks or Vernon Carey is going to be the Bears' No. 1 free-agent target. Why you ask? Well for starters John St. Clair mentioned in a recent article that the Bears have not contacted his agent yet to start contract negotiations. I doubt if John Tait thinking about retirement is a surprise to them so if you know Tait and his salary are leaving, it's logical to assume the Bears would want to pursue the best possible replacement. St. Clair played a good left tackle last year but Starks and Carey are probably much better right tackles than St. Clair. Both also fit the the mold of the guy I have been wanting them to have that of a road grader run blocker. Replacing Tait with a free agent makes more sense to me than drafting a rookie right tackle and having both your starting tackles with virtually no NFL experience. The Bears have the cap room to sign Starks or Carey the question is will either of them want the Bears and how far are the Bears willing to convince them moneywise this is the place for him to play. I also heard that Ray Willis of the Seahawks is a free agent. Can you tell me if you also believe the Bears will pursue a free agent for right tackle and how do you hear Starks, Carey and Willis rate against each other?

Tom P., Parts Unknown

A: Let's get one thing straight, Jerry Angelo hasn't called yet to share his free agency plan with us.

Second, the Bears are going to have to get two tackles, whether it's through the draft, free agency or both. Right now, Chris Williams and Cody Balogh, who was on the practice squad all last season, are the only tackles under contract. So, if the Bears re-sign St. Clair, a possibility, or go after another veteran in free agency, they still have to find another tackle because you have to have three.

To re-sign Mike Brown or not ... that's one of the questions the Bears will have to answer soon if they have not already tackled that issue in a Halas Hall board room.

If the organization has not already completed organizational meetings reviewing the 2008 season and charting a path for the offseason ahead, it will probably do so by the end of the week. That would give them next week to gear up for the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins Thursday, Feb. 19.

One of the first orders of business for general manager Jerry Angelo is determining what to do with his own own players. All clubs hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until free agency opens Feb. 27. Brown and left tackle John St. Clair are the only primary starters from last season who will be unrestricted free agents. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, running back Kevin Jones, quarterback Rex Grossman, linebacker Darrell McClover and safeties Brandon McGowan and Cameron Worrell will be UFA's. Weak-side linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Marcus Hamilton are exclusive rights free agents.

As we pledged to do this offseason, we're not going to take our eye off the quarterback position for long. With that, let's dive right into Tuesday's Four Down Territory and start with a couple of QB queries.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kyle Orton? How much is his dropoff in production in the second half attributed to his ankle injury? Is he the longterm answer at quarterback? How much can he reasonably improve if the wide receiver corps remains so mediocre?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: If anyone has the answer to this question, Jerry Angelo would like to hear from them. Pronto. Here is the bottom line--Orton will be the starting quarterback for 2009. Even if the club brings in a veteran there isn't going to be any type of derby. Not after the maneuvering the team has done since the season ended to make sure everyone knows it believes in Orton.

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