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.
The Detroit Lions are virtually ensured of being without rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford for Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye will pay for that absence. The NFL has fined Ogunleye $7,500 for unnecessary roughness, ruling that when he spun Stafford to the ground for a sack midway through the fourth quarter he made a horse collar tackle. Ogunleye had the back of Stafford's jersey with his right hand. There was not a penalty called on the play.
Stafford reportedly suffered a dislocated right knee cap, although the injury is not believed to be serious. After missing two days of practice, he reportedly took part in some individual drills today. Still, veteran Daunte Culpepper is expected to start.
The sudden emergence of rookie Johnny Knox through the first two games has raised an interesting question about a wide receiver that had a breakthrough during training camp and preseason--Devin Aromashodu.
Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake jokingly referred to Aromashodu as Wally Pipp and Knox as Lou Gehrig, a funny analogy but one that doesn't fit. Aromashodu can't be Pipp because he hasn't been out on the field with the Bears in the regular season yet. It's impossible to lose a gig he never had. But on the fields of training camp and in preseason, he quickly emerged as one of Jay Cutler's preferred targets. At 6-2, 201 pounds, he has good size, and the relationship was evident at the very beginning of camp. It was cemented in preseason when Cutler actively worked to feed him the ball.
But a slight quad pull sidelined Aromashodu for the season opener at Green Bay, creating an opening on the game day roster for Knox, who otherwise appeared destined to be inactive. He took the opportunity, and a few passes from Cutler, and ran with them. The Bears have only dressed four receivers for the first two games--starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett--Knox, and Rashied Davis. It's going to be hard to justify bumping up another wide receiver when you consider special teams needs. Davis is a four-phase contributor on special teams, and that matters. He forced the game-ending fumble against Pittsburgh on the kickoff coverage unit. It's clear Cutler wants to see Aromashodu at some point, but the wideout will likely have to prove useful for special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Fourth and fifth wideouts have to be major special teams players.
Either I missed the story online that is in Saturday's print edition, or somewhere it got lost in the shuffle on the World Wide Web. So here is the unedited version of the story that is or was to be printed in Saturday's paper:
The Bears are going to have to evaluate one of the first goals of their offseason after discovering Friday running back Kevin Jones will miss the season with a torn ligament in his left ankle.
Jones, who they were featuring Thursday against Cleveland at Soldier Field to get a little extra work in before the regular season begins, jumped into the air along the sideline and when he landed on his left foot it buckled. An MRI revealed the damage and he will undergo surgery next week. Rehabilitation is expected to take 10 months, but Jones proved he was a quick healer when he came back from a torn ACL in his right knee last summer.
While he was a luxury addition last year, Jones was headed for an expanded role as Matt Forte's primary backup when he returned with a $3.5 million, two-year contract. Adrian Peterson might have been on the bubble to make the club and now he's a lock for the 53-man roster when it's officially announced later today along with Garrett Wolfe. The Bears could seek a free agent but word around the league was they are content to roll with three backs for now.
``We were anxious to give him a lot of carries and see where he was,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. ``I feel bad for him. He's had a good training camp and I know he was looking forward to getting a chance to make some plays and was excited about playing. You hate to see it.''
The question is whether or not Forte will get off the field. He rarely did last season, participating in 84 percent of the club's offensive snaps, the highest figure for a back in the league. Forte was third in the NFL with 316 rushes, and when you add in 63 receptions, he had 379 touches, most for the Bears since Walter Payton had 434 in 1984. Turner talked on multiple occasions last season about working in others, and the danger now is it will be all talk again. Forte was dogged by a toe injury late last season and the workload wore on him a little bit on his way to setting a rookie franchise record with 1,238 yards.
``It's tough,'' Forte said. ``A.P. has been playing, this is his eighth year, he knows what he's doing too. We've got Garrett too. We don't have any issues with that. We're real confident with both of them getting in the game.''
Sorry, no refunds for a lack of accuracy on this one. Got a chuckle with David Haugh from the Tribune when we e-mailed back and forth about undertaking the same project. Our selections are pretty similar, and we didn't share notes.
I hope Brandon Rideau gets a shot somewhere because the guys does the right things, says the right things and probably can play. Draft picks who won't play block his path here.
Tight ends (3): Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark, Kellen Davis
Just didn't see enough of Michael Gaines in preseason.
Offensive line (8): Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, Chris Williams, Kevin Shaffer, Josh Beekman, Dan Buenning
The Bears didn't expect to keep Lance Louis when they drafted him, although he's done plenty to stick around on the practice squad. On paper, it's the deepest line Jerry Angelo has had with the Bears.
Defensive line (10): Alex Brown, Anthony Adams, Tommie Harris, Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Henry Melton, Israel Idonije, Marcus Harrison, Jarron Gilbert, Matt Toeaina
If they drop down to nine here the final cut is between Melton and Toeaina. And for my money Toeaina is the player they will need more this season.
Linebackers (6): Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach, Jamar Williams, Hunter Hillenmeyer
Tried to find a spot for special teams man Darrell McClover but couldn't make it happen. I could be wrong. Undrafted rookie free agent Kevin Malast will get a job somewhere, even if it's just on the practice squad.
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:
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.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Rashied Davis was upbeat about the future for his buddies in the Arena Football League when the it announced in December it was pulling the curtains on the 2009 season.
A year away would help the league strengthen its foundation and it would return strong as ever. It meant a lot to Davis, who began his professional career with the San Jose franchise and played there four seasons, earning offensive MVP honors for his team.
"It tears at my heart,'' Davis said this morning. "That kind of sucks. What can you do?''
He's just one player to come from the indoor game and make a career playing in the NFL. Kurt Warner, the two-time NFL MVP, is the poster boy for those looking to go from the minor leagues to the top. Michael Lewis, a former Pro Bowl kick returner for the New Orleans Saints, was discovered in Arena ball. Wide receivers David Patten and Oronde Gadsden honed their games there. Stylez White, the defensive end that was known as Greg White when he was briefly with the Bears, took off in Arena ball and has had 13 sacks over the last two seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a training ground for more than a few players.
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.
Who says you need a Pro Bowl wide receiver to win the Super Bowl?
Not Rick Gosselin, that is for sure.
The veteran Dallas Morning News' scribe did an interesting breakdown of Super Bowl winners from 1991 to present and how the makeup of offenses has changed. History proves you don't need an elite receiver to win the Big Game, not anymore any way. It's good news for the Bears, right? They have nine wideouts on their roster right now and two of them have more than seven career catches--Devin Hester and Rashied Davis. The other seven--Devin Aromashodu (7), John Broussard (4), Earl Bennett (0), Juaquin Iglesias (0), Johnny Knox (0), Derek Kinder (0) and Eric Peterman (0)--have 11 combined receptions. Yes, more than half of the receivers on the roster have not caught a pass in the NFL making position coach Darryl Drake's job about as important as anyone's entering this season.
"Neither of the last two Super Bowl champions - Pittsburgh in 2008 or the New York Giants in 2007 - had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that season. Neither had a Pro Bowl quarterback, for that matter. The Steelers finished 17th in the NFL in passing and the Giants were 21st.
"When the New England Patriots won back-to-back titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, their top wideouts failed to crack the NFL's top 30 in receiving those seasons. Deion Branch finished 42nd in 2003 and David Givens 40th in 2004. Baltimore's top wideout in its 2000 championship season was Qadry Ismail, who finished 68th in the NFL.
"Only two NFL champions in the 2000 decade lined up a Pro Bowl wide receiver in their Super Bowl seasons - Troy Brown for the Patriots in 2001 and Marvin Harrison for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. The rest preferred quantity over quality on the flank."
Gosselin provides a chart comparing the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 2000 through 2008 to the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 1991 through 1999. Five wideouts from the 1991 to 1999 group made Pro Bowls. Two in the more recent group were selected, including Harrison for Indianapolis in 2006, the year the Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
There are some key points made in this story but the question right now is not if the Bears have an elite wide receiver for new quarterback Jay Cutler. The burning question is whether or not the Bears have enough wide receivers worthy of regular playing time in the NFL? I doesn't matter if you have Cutler or Kyle Orton at quarterback, you're not going to make a living pushing the ball downfield to tight ends and running backs.
What can a dominant receiver mean in the postseason? Consider Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, whose four-game postseason run included 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Hester was the only Bears wide receiver with more yards in 2008, and the Bears haven't had a wideout score that many times since Marty Booker had eight touchdowns in 2001.
Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes was the third wide receiver to claim Super Bowl MVP honors in the last five years. You might not need a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but you have to have one who can perform big on the sport's grandest stage. It's been 12 years since a running back was named Super Bowl MVP.
*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen likes the addition of strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the Bears' defense, but the thing that jumps out from this read is his assessment of new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
"I doubt they'll disappoint with new D-line coach Rod Marinelli, who's gotten rave reviews from former players I've talked to as well as Bears GM Jerry Angelo. "The best teaching coach in the league," I've heard more than once.''
The Bears injected a little youth into the line with third-round pick Jarron Gilbert and fourth-round selection Henry Melton, but otherwise they're hoping to rediscover their swagger of 2005 and 2006 with virtually the same personnel. Some have questioned the ability of Marinelli to come in, wave a magic wand and make it happen. Bowen and other league insiders believe Marinelli can make it happen, and everyone knows the hard work Marinelli has ahead for the linemen. We've written it before, we'll write it again, pay attention to the individual D-line drills in training camp.
*** It seems that the last month or so has been one projection followed by one list followed by another projection. Well, here's another list ... this time ESPN's John Clayton puts together the top five general manager-coach combinations in the NFL. He ranks Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith fourth.
"Lovie Smith-Jerry Angelo, Chicago Bears: This one might surprise some because Angelo isn't a vocal general manager and the Bears, as a team, usually slip under the radar. They stay in contention most years in the NFC North, and made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Angelo made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, who could take the Bears to 11 wins. In the meantime, Smith has taken over the play-calling duties on defense and expects an improved, more aggressive unit this fall."
Going over the Bears' 80-man roster right now, one position of need really jumps out at you. We're not covering any new ground when we write that they are banking on considerable production from multiple unproven players at wide receiver in 2009. Donald Driver beat us to the punch on that already.
Earl Bennett is a projected starter with zero NFL catches. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are being counted on and the Bears are hoping they don't require a "redshirt year'' that some in the organization say Bennett had. Then you have starter Devin Hester and veteran slot receiver Rashied Davis. Brandon Rideau could also figure in the mix and he has virtually no NFL experience.
But if Lovie Smith could make one personnel move right now, import one player to his roster, would it be a receiver? Maybe. But think back to five years ago when Smith was first on the scene. The Bears went to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University and before they got out of there Smith made up his mind, he needed a pass rusher to make his defense go. We've heard Smith say it every year as the draft approaches, he can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback.
Well, the price for an elite pass rusher just went up. A lot. All of a sudden you've got multiple pass rushers (Dwight Freeney's $72 million contract is standing up just fine) making more money than some top passers, a trend that is sure to change and maybe before the Bears get around to doing a deal for Jay Cutler. Consider the joy among edge rushers this week:
*** Terrell Suggs beat the deadline that comes with the franchise tag to sign a longterm contract in Baltimore. He bagged $63 million over six seasons, the same money Matt Cassel got in Kansas City this week. According to reports, Suggs will receive $38 million guaranteed and his total bonus money in the first two years of the deal is $33.1 million, just shy of the $34 million in bonus money Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning had in his contract.
We didn't stumble across Donald Driver's assessment of the Bears' wide receivers until a big headline was plastered across ProFootballTalk.com, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came across something that position coach Darryl Drake might want to print out and stick in his training camp bag. Now.
Driver, talking to Sirius NFL Radio, was very complimentary of the Bears' acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler, and had nice things to say about the offensive line, running back Matt Forte and the defense. But the wideouts ... what wideouts?
"I think Chicago did a great job, and Lovie Smith went out there and got Jay Cutler to lead this team, but one thing they don't have is they don't have the receiver group," Driver said. "They have the running back, they have the offensive line and they have a great defense. But you're going to have to need receivers to make plays down the field, and they don't have that right now. So I can see on our end we have all of that on our offense. And then you go back to look at Minnesota. Minnesota has a great running game, but they just don't have the top-of-the-line quarterback that they need. So I'm hoping my guy [Brett Favre] doesn't go over there, but if he does then I wish the best for him."
The way the Bears' wideouts played against Green Bay last season, Driver may have let them off easy. Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson did a public mugging of the wide receivers in the first meeting. The Bears managed to lose 37-3 and in the process they completed four passes to wide receivers. Yes, they lost by five touchdowns (minus one extra point) and couldn't get five passes to the biggest playmakers on offense.
Brandon Lloyd has two receptions for 17 yards.
Rashied Davis had one receptions for 36 yards.
Devin Hester had one reception for seven yards.
Four catches. 60 yards.
Granted, that was the week Kyle Orton came back a week too early from an ankle injury but Orton wasn't the only player struggling at Lambeau Field.