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T.J. Houshmandzadeh is preparing himself for a monster week against the Bears, regardless of who plays quarterback for Seattle.

Starter Matt Hasselbeck was sidelined with a fractured rib at practice Wednesday, and Seneca Wallace took the first-team reps in practice, but that hasn't stopped the veteran wide receiver from fashioning big plans. He has 10 catches for 110 yards through the Seahawks' first two games and pointed out those are the types of numbers he's accustomed to producing in a single week. After the Bears didn't give him so much as a sniff in free agency, he's prepared to show them what type of mistake they made.

"Ah, man, the Bears ain't hollered at me, man,'' Houshmandzadeh said on a teleconference with reporters. "Jerry Angelo probably didn't think I could play, so I'm going to show him Sunday."

Houshmandzadeh has started doing his homework too, reciting that second-year cornerback Zack Bowman, a fifth-round draft pick, is from Nebraska.

"I started watching film yesterday,'' Houshmandzadeh said. "Obviously, last week was his first week starting against Pittsburgh. He did fairly well. For him, it's just kind of getting out there and getting a feel for it. Obviously, coming from Nebraska, I am assuming when he first got to Nebraska they were probably a run team and they kind of evolved into a passing team, so he probably got better as his college career went on.

"But, obviously he has corners he can learn from. Vash [Nathan Vasher] has got great instincts and [Charles] Tillman is probably more the guy he would want to learn from because they're similar in size.''

The Bears probably would have been interested in Houshmandzadeh, 31, if he wasn't the only top-flight wide receiver that was in free agency. That drove up the market for him quickly and he signed for $40 million over five years in Seattle with the key number being $15 million guaranteed. He's a big target, which is one thing the Bears are lacking.

"That's their choice,'' Houshmandzadeh said. "That's what makes America great. You have the right to do what you want to do and they chose not to do that. It is what it is.

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The 2009 NFL schedule was released April 14, 12 days after the Bears completed their trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that sparked tremendous expectations for the team.

The season opener at Green Bay followed by the home opener this afternoon with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers looked like a formidable start for all those not sipping the Kool Aid. Now, after a rough loss at Lambeau Field that has the Bears making four changes in the starting lineup on defense, two necessitated by injuries, the Bears know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start. A loss to the Steelers could put the Bears two behind the Packers and fellow NFC North foe Minnesota. Green Bay hosts Cincinnati (0-1) and the Vikings, which also won their opener, are at Detroit (0-1) where the Lions will try to avoid their 19th straight defeat.

The statistics are daunting as well. Three of the 10 teams that started 0-2 last season--Miami, Minnesota and San Diego--reached the playoffs. But that kind of success is rare. Since 2000, nine of the 78 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.5 percent). Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 30 teams that have started 0-2 made the playoffs, including three Super Bowl winners (1993 Dallas, 2001 New England and 2007 New York Giants). That's one a year. Finally, the Bears, the cornerstone franchise of the league, have never made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Add in the fact that next week's game is at Seattle where the Bears are 1-4 all-time with their last win coming in 1976, the first year of existence for the expansion Seahawks, and this game takes on an added significance if you believe in looking ahead.

Enough with the numbers. Let's get to it. What are keys for the Bears to be successful?

1. The Steelers have been getting some heat for some time. Why don't they run the football more? What happened to the fullback? The fact is, Bruce Arians runs a passing offense that suits his personnel. But after failing to generate any kind of ground game in the opener, the Steelers are going to try to establish success early vs. the Bears. They flat ran over them the last time the teams played in 2005. That was a different offensive line with a different back running behind it in Jerome Bettis. This line outweighs the Bears' front by an average of 47 pounds. The Bears have to stop the run because if Pittsburgh is two-dimensional, Ben Roethlisberger will be very difficult to stop.

2. Be like Hunter. It will be interesting to see if there are subtle differences in the scheme with Hunter Hillenmeyer replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. He knows he can't try to be like Brian. He's not that player. I detailed here for the National Football Post how the change could affect the Bears when it comes to the blitz. The good news for the Bears is Hillenmeyer is probably a better middle linebacker than he is a strong-side linebacker, the position he started at for most of four seasons. The blitz will be key because the Steelers use a spread attack that forces the linemen to play in space. There will be opportunities to pressure Roethlisberger.

3. Safety dance. Lovie Smith was itching to get Danieal Manning in at free safety before training camp started. A pulled hamstring delayed that move. Now, Manning is in position. It's the 18th change in starting free safeties since Smith came on board in 2004. There have been 15 changes at strong safety. Hey, the Bears finally found a position to switch more often than starting quarterback. There is a chart of all the turnover during Smith's era here. Manning needs to curtail some of the glaring assignment errors that have marked his time at the position in the past. The wide open touchdown by Andre Johnson in the season finale last year at Houston comes to mind. The issue here is the team didn't use him at safety once during the offseason. He missed significant time in training camp with a pulled hamstring and he'll be going off classroom instruction more than anything else.

GREEN BAY, Wis.--The Bears announced that Charles Tillman will be active and is expected to start at left cornerback.

Tillman warmed up on the field two hours before the game with Lance Briggs, and had a short visit with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The surprise is that Zack Bowman, who the Bears raved about all spring and summer, has not supplanted veteran Nathan Vasher at right cornerback. Coach Lovie Smith hinted strongly during training camp that the Bears were holding starting spots for Tillman and Bowman while they were injured, but Vasher gets the nod.

Charles Tillman will be questionable for Sunday's game at Green Bay when the injury report is released later this afternoon.

Coach Lovie Smith said that the decision will rest in the hands of medical people, but at this point, two days before the start of the season, you would have to imagine a decision has been made. Tillman had back surgery in July, and just returned to the practice field on Monday. He completed his fourth practice this afternoon, and he and fellow cornerback Zack Bowman were the last two players on the fields behind Halas Hall.

"Either way,'' Smith said when asked if he didn't know or just didn't want to say. "What difference does it matter? Don't want to say, don't have to say, what I have to say is give you a questionable for him and that's what I'm saying right now and why would I want to say anymore.''

Tillman, well coached on the matter, said his gut feeling is ... what else? Fifty-fifty.

"I'm in the paper all week long,'' Tillman said. "What the hell?''

Tillman said the difference today as opposed to earlier in the week is he is no longer sore.

"It's really not about me pushing them to make me play,'' he said. "They're going to make their decision and the doctor is going to make his decision regardless of what I say or what I do. They have the green light to whatever it is I need to do. I'm just prepared if I get it, prepared if I don't get it. That's why I've been saying 50-50 all week.''

Did Lovie Smith tip his hand on the plan for Sunday night at Green Bay?

We're going to have to wait until we get to Lambeau Field to find the answer, but Smith at least seemed to indicate that veteran cornerback Charles Tillman will be on the field against the Packers.

Smith was asked how tough it has been to prepare the secondary through what has been a series of injuries. Tillman didn't return to practice until Monday after missing all of the preseason, training camp and the majority of the offseason program as he had back and shoulder surgeries. Cornerback Zack Bowman missed most of camp and three preseason games with a pulled hamstring. Projected free safety and nickel back Danieal Manning was in and out with a hamstring pull, and now looks like he'll just play the nickel, at least to start the season.

"Well, I think it is a good thing though because now we have all of the players that we started training camp hoping would be on the field, we have for our first game,'' Smith said in answer to the question. "That's a good thing. Players tell you who should start, who should dress. We have a pretty good idea of how we will play our players this week. We are confident they will play well and again we have a good group to choose from."

Danieal Manning and Zack Bowman were both on the practice field at the start of practice this afternoon, and that's a good sign as the secondary continues to slowly round itself back into form. Cornerback Charles Tillman was out playing catch with the quarterbacks before the session got started, but he hasn't been cleared for drills yet. We'll see how much work the others get done today when coach Lovie Smith speaks after practice.

Rookie defensive end Henry Melton was spotted with a walking boot on his right foot, and that's not a good sign with final cuts fast approaching. Melton really didn't do a whole lot in training camp, but he's incredibly athletic and the Bears admitted he was a project when they selected him in the fourth round from Texas. No word what the exact nature of his ankle injury is.

Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will undergo surgery on his right knee on Friday to determine if there's more to his injury than a sprained MCL. The Sun-Times reported he also has a torn ACL, and ESPNChicago.com confirmed that report on its own. The folks at Football Outsiders put together a chart looking at the most injured players of the last decade. Dvoracek, who has been sidelined for 35 of 48 regular-season games over the last three seasons, will rank as the most inured player of the decade if he misses 11 games this season. The way his teammates spoke of him earlier this week, it's apparent they have been told to expect him to miss the season.

It's a tough story because Dvoracek has been such a diligent worker and is so well respected by everyone in Halas Hall.

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We should get a pretty good indication of how the Bears feel about Nathan Vasher Saturday night when the Bears face the New York Giants in the second preseason game at Soldier Field.

Lovie Smith made it pretty clear earlier this week that he is waiting on Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman to emerge from the training room and be the starting cornerbacks this season, but that hasn't happened yet, and someone needs to hold down the fort while they're out. Vasher struggled last week at Buffalo, with at least two completions to wide receiver Lee Evans the result of some poor technique.

Smith has walked a fine line in calling out Vasher, but he's included his name in a group of players that need to step up their performances.

"We've had one game,'' Smith said. "With DB's you never know. Just think about it. The quarterback has an opportunity to hold the ball every play. So its tough on the defensive backs. We've seen Nate do some good things. Just like the rest of our football team didn't play as well as we probably would like to have played last week but there's a big challenge coming ahead this week.''

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Lovie Smith did not hand out a starting job on Monday afternoon after the Bears completed their first practice since Saturday's preseason opener, but the coach sure gave a strong indication that Zack Bowman will be in the starting lineup when the season opens Sept. 13 at Lambeau Field.

Bowman is sidelined with a pulled right hamstring right now, but he did some work on the side Monday, joining cornerback Charles Tillman, who is working his way back from back surgery. Smith made it sound like the team is biding its time right now, waiting for the pair to return.

"[Tillman and Bowman] don't have to come out here and prove to us that they can play," Smith said. "So we'll just do what we need to do. Everything we do in general is to set up our play for [Green Bay]. Yeah, we would like to have them out here practicing, but as long as we can get them back around in time, we'll be OK."

Asked if he was endorsing Bowman as a starter on the spot, Smith continued.

"I speak of Bowman based on what he's done since [offseason team activities], and he's played as well as any of the defensive backs. That's how I am looking at it.''

There is no disputing that in the first week of training camp Bowman made more plays than any one player has made in all of camp to this point. He's been out since Aug. 5, and the Bears are hopeful to get him some preseason action soon. They need to because he played in just one regular-season game last year after beginning the season on the practice squad. He suffered a ruptured biceps and his rookie campaign was done.

It doesn't bode well for veteran Nathan Vasher. The hope the team had for him entering camp appears to have faded. Vasher's in good shape, he's been working hard, but the results haven't appeared like anyone would like to see. He's making good money but will be needed when you consider the health risks associated with Tillman and Bowman at this point.

Meanwhile, Corey Graham worked primarily at the nickel in practice and he also got some occasional reps at left cornerback in place of Trumaine McBride. Graham said he is taking a liking to the nickel, and the Bears would be best served to get him comfortable there right now. Danieal Manning will be out for a while as he heals his hamstring injury. The Bears need someone they are comfortable with in that role in reserve, and training Graham will give them two options.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Did the NFL do in Twitter?

I don't know, but my efforts to tweet from the dorm room have been stifled by struggling technology. Perhaps the site will be up and chirping by the time this post is done.

Reports coming out of San Diego now are that Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers could begin talking about a new contract for him soon. Rivers is believed to have been waiting for Eli Manning to strike. Although Manning has a Super Bowl title to his credit, and that's what it is all about, Rivers' statistics over the course of their careers are far superior. Don't think for a second there is any reason other than that for his delay in getting to the bargaining table.

Wanted to Twitter a piece I did for the National Football Post this morning on Jay Cutler and what at some point will be his own negotiation for a contract extension. The Bears have never written the big-money deal for a quarterback before. Since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2001, no team has allocated less money to the position. Who did he have to pay? The team has someone to pay now but putting a gauge on that pay day right now is very difficult. When the team goes to a player, they are adamant that the integrity of the current contract be maintained. In other words, the player will get his money but the team isn't going to rip up the current contract and start all over.

The Bears have a history of approaching players during season to see if they can strike a deal and get ahead when it comes to the salary cap. If a deal is done by midseason, money can be applied to the current year's cap. With the Bears sitting on more than $20 million in cap room, doing a Cutler deal now would allow them to put a nice chunk in 2009. Assuming the CBA gets worked out--that looks like the assumption the Giants went under in doing Manning's deal--it's a smart move.

But it's no guarantee that the team and Cutler get to the bargaining table. If they don't, it's possible the Bears could target tight end Greg Olsen for an extension as I wrote here for the NFP. Olsen is entering the third year of his five-year contract and is clearly part of the long term future. Early restructures turn into win-wins. The player gets guaranteed money sooner than he would, and the team gets value moving forward.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Before you know it, the Bears' quarterbacks might start staying away from Zack Bowman.

The cornerback made another big interception in Saturday's night practice, picking off Jay Cutler on a deep route for Devin Hester. Coach Lovie Smith has wound up talking about Bowman after two practices now, and that's always a good sign.

"My big thing is just going out there and being more consistent,'' Bowman said. ``I was backpedaling [on the interception] and I opened up, I saw Devin take off and I saw the ball in the air. I just tried to make the play.''

Bowman was asked about marking Hester that closely that far downfield.

"I'm fast, too, you know,'' Bowman said. ``He's just a little bit faster. I'm always going to be on the top of my game. He said I was lucky. I wasn't lucky. I was on top and I was ready to go.''

*** New tight end Michael Gaines lined up in the backfield some during inside rushing drills. That is something the Bears are considering doing with him and it would provide the team with roster flexibility in the event they only keep one fullback.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Plenty of action from Fridays' first day of practice that we didn't get to in the print/online edition or in the blog previously. Let's take a look at some quotes from the day.

Lovie Smith on cornerback Zack Bowman, who made a couple plays in practice including securing a bobbled interception.

"Zack had a good offseason. I know he made a couple plays out there today, but that's what we've seen from him every time we've given him an opportunity,'' Smith said. "He's got a long ways to go. Again, all the things that happened so far, none of it's been in pads. We're anxious to see the guys in that next step. But with the opportunity Zack's had, he's made the most of it."

Our spin: Bowman has already become Corey Graham from a year ago. Graham capitalized on a good offseason and then produced when Charles Tillman missed time in training camp. The more Bowman impresses, the tougher it will become for Graham to get a look. At some point you would figure secondary coach Jon Hoke will want to get a look at him though.

Alex Brown on the first workout with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"It's tough,'' Brown said. "Sheesh. It was everything we thought it would be though. It was more upbeat than OTA's but we knew it would be that way, but we knew that coming in. It's nothing we didn't expect but what you can't really plan for is being off for a month and a week and coming back for football. You can work at it as much as you want, but it ain't the same. It was good out here. You're going to be tired on the first day."

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Here's a new twist on an old problem.

The Bears are spinning the revolving door at safety before the action gets going this season.

Never ones to give away their depth chart before training camp, the Bears are changing ways. The story really doesn't change though, as the club announced on its Web site this morning that Danieal Manning is on the move again. Manning will open training camp in Friday's 3 p.m. practice at free safety, a position he spent exactly zero time at during the offseason program. Kevin Payne will be the starter at strong safety with Craig Steltz challenging him. Manning will slide to the nickel cornerback role he played last season in passing situations. In the nickel package, Steltz will be at free safety.

"Danieal is getting more of the concept of this defense and his overall football knowledge has improved a lot," coach Lovie Smith announced. "Sometimes it takes players a while before they really get it and I think Danieal has gotten it where it all makes sense to him, and that's why we're putting him in this role right now."

Manning was last seen at free safety in the season finale a year ago. With Mike Brown injured, Manning got the start at Houston where the Bears squandered a 10-point lead and lost to the Texans, surrendering more than 450 yards in the process. One big chunk came on Andre Johnson's uncontested touchdown when Manning blew coverage. It was a coverage mistake Manning made as a rookie in Super Bowl XLI that led to a secondary shakeup in 2007. That's been the one consistent thing under Smith, who has changed quarterbacks, safeties and position coaches on defense rapidly. The Bears have changed starting free safeties 16 times since Smith was hired in 2004, and swapped out starting strong safeties 14 times.

It's been the constant moving of Manning, the second round pick from 2006, that has stunted his growth. He's gone from safety to cornerback to safety to nickel cornerback and now back to safety.

"I've heard people talk about the different positions Danieal has played," Smith said on the Web site. "But that only helps you. He knows exactly what it feels like to play [corner, safety and nickel]. He's played every position in the secondary. That's helped his football knowledge and is going to make him a better free safety."

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