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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--It's always interesting to get the take of outsiders when they swing into town for a visit to training camp.

Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports was in last week, and he's been covering the league for a long time, enjoying an extended run at Sports Illustrated before jumping into the Internet world.

Silver previews the Bears' season and draws the conclusion that while Jay Cutler mania ia gripping the campus of Olivet Nazarene University--we didn't need Silver to show up and tell us that--the defense will be the key to a playoff run for this outfit. Silver focuses on the shakeup on the coaching staff where Lovie Smith replaced his position coaches at all three levels of the defense, and ultimately put himself in charge of the whole thing by adding another hat as de facto defensive coordinator.

"Bears coach Lovie Smith obviously agreed, initiating a staff shakeup that resulted in his seizing control of the defense. It was a bold move, and it may turn out to be a career-defining one for a man who is far less secure than he was 30 months ago."

"At the start of the offseason Lovie told us, 'This is my defense. I'm gonna run it. If you want to point a finger, point it at me,' " recalls middle linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes), a six-time Pro Bowl selection. "I think it's great. Lovie's calling the plays, and that means we're gonna play fast, take the ball away, get to the quarterback and be physical."

Silver asked Smith point blank if he regretted running off former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera following the Super Bowl run in 2006. Rivera went to San Diego where he was the inside linebackers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator there during the middle of last season. He received some credit as the Chargers made a miraculous turn around to overpass Cutler and Denver and win the AFC West.

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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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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While the Bears held their mandatory veteran minicamp just as soon as possible, most teams have just gotten into the swing of things.

Arizona, Carolina, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Washington all held mandatory full-team minicamps over the weekend.

Meanwhile, veteran safety Mike Brown remains without a team. It's not by choice at this point. Multiple league sources said Brown plans to continue his playing career and one source said he wants to prove that he's still able to perform at the top of his game. The problem he faces right now is the later it gets, and the more teams that go through minicamps and proceed into their offseason programs, the more difficult it is going to be to find work. Teams want to get players up to speed on their schemes and playbook in the spring so they can hit the field running in training camp.

Some thought Brown would land a job quickly after the draft after teams assessed what was on their roster and where they needed to fill holes with a secondary venture into the free-agent market. That has not happened. Whether or not teams have expressed interest in Brown, we don't know, but he could surely be had for the league minimum at this point. Few players signed in May are going to get much different.

Looks like there is going to be a reunion of sorts in San Diego for former Bears' assistant coaches.

Steve Wilks, the defensive backs who Lovie Smith fired on Dec. 30, interviewed in San Diego with the Chargers on Saturday and will meet with team officials at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to finalize a contract later today. It's also believed that Don Johnson, the defensive line coach for the Bears from 2005-06, will join the Chargers in some capacity. Johnson was surprisingly let go by Smith following Super Bowl XLI when defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was also run off. Rivera, of course, is calling the shots on defense for the Chargers after a midseason promotion.

PITTSBURGH--Rookie head coach John Harbaugh is one victory away from the Super Bowl and another opportunity to promote Dave Toub as a potential head-coaching candidate.

The 11-5 season by the Baltimore Ravens, and their two road playoff victories have already given Toub some momentum because of the coaching history the men share. They come from a special teams background that some have been reluctant to consider. Call it the Frank Gansz Effect. Gansz, one of the most widely respected special teams coaches in the league over the last 30 years, was promoted from that position to head coach in Kansas City. He promptly went 8-22-1 before being replaced by Marty Schottenheimer.

Some believe Gansz's struggles made owners less likely to consider special teams coaches. But Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia for nine seasons before jumping over to the secondary in 2007. That propelled him to the job in Baltimore and has some league insiders believing that Toub will soon be considered. Of course, Toub worked under Harbaugh for the Eagles before joining Lovie Smith's staff in 2004.

Steve Wilks might not ever have another job interview like he did Friday.

The former Bears' defensive backs coach was in Tampa interviewing to replace Raheem Norris as their secondary coach, and Wilks was flying back to Chicago when the ax fell at One Buc Place and coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired. Norris, who had been promoted to defensive coordinator, is expected to be the next Bucs coach and could extend an offer to Wilks.

But Wilks could be close to landing a job elsewhere. He will travel to San Diego today where he will interview with coach Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be the Chargers' defensive backs coach. San Diego has an opening after Bill Bradley was one of four assistants let go on Tuesday.

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