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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.

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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.

If you're following the blog of Richmond McGee, the logical next logical step is for the Bears to have the free-agent punter take the roster spot created by the retirement of Glenn Earl.

The veteran safety Earl, a Naperville North and Notre Dame product, informed the team he plans to retire on Tuesday, and an official announcement will likely come today. Earl's departure drops the Bears' roster to 79 players, giving them one open slot. Although cornerbacks Charles Tillman will be placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) on Friday, it's the active PUP list teams can use in training camp. That will not create an additional roster spot.

Instead of bringing in an additional defensive back (the Bears have eight cornerbacks not counting Tillman and six safeties without Earl), the Bears could sign McGee. He believes the Bears are going to, at least at some point in the very near future.

"Nothing is official until I sign next month,'' McGee wrote on his blog. "But they are offering me a one-year contract.''

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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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If anyone is ready for a break from the grind of a long offseason you would figure it might be coach Lovie Smith.

The Bears went headlong into revamping their defense in early January. Smith officially announced he was taking over the unit and put the assistants through boot camp on the dry erase board in the basement at Halas Hall. It was just the beginning of an exciting but long 5 1/2 months.

Yet there Smith stood Wednesday afternoon following the final OTA practice as energetic as ever. He didn't look ready for training camp. He looked ready for the start of the regular season. So, coach, looking forward to some time away now?

"You never get that far away from it,'' Smith said. "I am having a blast being involved a little bit more like that. I have time throughout, there are certain periods when I am looking at the offense, seeing it, getting a chance to go and watch all of the individual things. That part of it, I am excited.

"But that's not going to be why we're gonna come back. We're going to come back because of what our assistant coaches, defensively, what they've done. Jon Hoke, Rod [Marinelli], Bob [Babich], Gill Byrd, what they have been doing with their individual groups."

*** We wouldn't read too much into Corey Graham playing nickel the past two weeks, not with a tight hamstring sidelining Danieal Manning. But Graham did play nickel for two games last season and it is another option for him to get on the field. If Craig Steltz continues to run with the first team at free safety and Nathan Vasher reclaims his job at right cornerback, that will eliminate two options for Graham.

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Jay Cutler might not be ready to commit to the Indian but he will sure meet the Indian, as a Bears spokesman said.

The new quarterback will drop the ceremonial first puck tonight at the Blackhawks' playoff opener with the Calgary Flames at the United Center.

I completed an assignment for the Sporting News last week, and a portion of the file was to rank the Bears' draft needs from 1 to 19. Using the order I put together for the Sporting News, the NFL draft preview edition just hit newsstands with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on the cover, I'll do a daily breakdown here. For the purpose of getting every position covered before the draft begins April 25, I've combined the specialisits--kicker, punter, kick returner, punt returner and long snapper--into one category.

We'll begin with need No. 16 today and work our way up to the draft, having to double up on one day.

Need No. 16--Specialists

Players on roster

K Robbie Gould (signed through 2013)
P Brad Maynard (2010)
KR Danieal Manning (2009)
PR Devin Hester (2013)
LS Pat Mannelly (2010)

He doesn't need to look beyond his big brother to see proof that undrafted free agents can not only make it, they can make it big.

The Bears have invited Chris Gould, younger brother of Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould, to participate in minicamp this week on a tryout basis, a source close to the player said.

Big brother once came to Halas Hall in a similar situation when he competed against four other kickers for a job in the second month of the 2005 season. It led to him signing the richest contract for a kicker in 2008. Chris Gould joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia last year. He hit 16-of-20 field goals as a senior in 2007, including 5-of-5 from 40-plus yards.

INDIANAPOLIS--He pulls a business card out of his bag and hands it to you.

It reads "Paul Edinger IV, Professional Kicking Specialist,'' and the former Bears kicker has been working it in hotel lobbies at the scouting combine.

Edinger hasn't kicked in the NFL since 2005 with the Minnesota Vikings, although he's had a handful of tryouts, and he's doing his best to get a shot to get back in the league. Saturday afternoon he was looking for some representatives from the Washington Redskins, hopeful of encountering defensive coordinator Greg Blache. He'd tracked down Todd Haley, the former Bears wide receivers coach, about a chance in Kansas City. He just wants an opportunity to revive his career.

TAMPA, Fla.--We'll dig a little deeper into these franchise and transition tag numbers that were revealed today.

But first, they're unlikely to apply to the Bears. General manager Jerry Angelo is not going to place a tag on any players this offseason. The deadline for clubs to tag a player is Feb. 19.

Four Bears players popped up on the list of salaries used to determine the tag numbers. The franchise tag is the average of the top five cap figures in the league at a position and the transition tag is the average of the top 10.

We would be remiss if we didn't get to this ... kicker Robbie Gould was named the NFC special teams player of the month after hitting two game-winning field goals in overtime to carry the Bears into Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.

Gould was 8-for-8 on field goals in the month and finished the season connecting on 11 straight. It was the second such award for Gould in his four years as he also won in October 2006. He joined Hall of Famer and one-time Bear George Blanda (1975, Oakland), Norm Johnson (1990, Seattle) and David Akers (2000, Philadelphia) as the only kickers in league history to win consecutive games in overtime with field goals.

Gould finished the season 26-for-29 to break his own franchise record for accuracy in a season at 89.7 percent. He became the first Bears kicker to score 100-plus points in three consecutive seasons and is now fifth in franchise history in scoring with 470 points, trailing Blanda by 71 points. Having hit 85.9 percent of field goals in his career (110-for-128), Gould is the third-most accurate field goal kicker in league history trailing Mike Vanderjagt and Nate Kaeding.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Robbie Gould category.

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