Archive for June, 2009

Bears Wrap Up 2009 OTAs Part I

June 23, 2009

First before I get into this I obviously owe a big apology to my loyal readers. I’ve been dealing with some personal issues close to my family lately so my blog has been neglected for a lot longer than I ever anticipated. Apologies that there has been a severe lack of content since the end of the NFL Draft. I hope to continue to provide daily updates, but more importantly the coverage you’ll receive during the season should be the best on the web from any Chicago Bears blog out there. Continue to check back here and at Midway Illustrated for all the best Bears information you’ll find in any non commercially affiliated blog.

This past Wednesday the 17th of June the Chicago Bears wrapped up their organized team activities for the 2009 off-season program. The big news everyone seems to be asking about is the speculation on Brandon Marshall and Plaxico Burress becoming Chicago Bear players. The likelihood of Marshall seems almost none given the need to trade for him. However Plaxico Burress is one to keep on an eye on as we count down the day to Bourbannais.

This blog however is going to cover went is being reported out of the OTA practices at Halas Hall. Where is the team at, and what player have stood out.

First off the big question everyone wants to look at is the wide receiver position and who is looking to emerge opposite Devin Hester.

Cutting right to the chase among the rookies (I include Earl Bennett in the rookie category) the talk is of Johnny Knox and the type of player he is. Knox as we all know has the speed to be a game breaker in the NFL. You don’t run an electronically timed 4.32 40-yard-dash, and find teams talking about your other attributes.

However this is precisely what has happened with Johnny Knox, the buzz is starting to emerge about his hands and his speed and route running ability. Knox is starting to look the part and is producing at a level higher than Juaquin Iglesias after 15 practices.

Every media type that has been at OTAs and including offensive coordinator Ron Turner have raved about Knox as the star of the rookie class during OTAs. Turner said as much in his interview on ESPN 1000 on Thursday.

Me personally I loved what I saw of Knox at the combine and his production in college is something else that says he is more than just a track star in pads. I am officially tagging Knox as the sleeper of this draft class who may wind up being a major steal if he continues to produce and work at the level he has thus far.

Granted Knox is only a rookie and has a long ways to go but his talent is unmistakable and with the need for WRs on this roster he looks as though he’ll find a solid role on this team in 2009.

We can also take a little bit away from the development of Earl Bennett. Bennett has already found a solid majority of critics lined up in his corner after missing all of 2008. Bennett however has begun to step up and show the ability that earned him a draft spot in the third round. Bennett is at a level that most of us have come to expect from the second year man.

Sure Bennett is not going to take over for Brandon Loyd, or Mushin Muhammad’s production this year. But he’ll be a part of the team and should play well moving forward. Keep in mind both Loyd and Muhammad are established veterans who have played at a high level way before. To expect Bennett to match those savvy veterans is a stretch, but anything is possible.

Brandon Rideau who ran with the practice squad most of last year is another player who has shown up and been noticed in OTAs. Rideau is also player who is showing an ability to produce this off-season. He is quite possibly producing at a level higher than Johnny Knox and could be the number two man next to Hester.

What seems to the be consensus among the receivers is that they all realize there is an opportunity to step up and be players and producers in this offense. Expanding upon that point they realize that a lot of money and a lot of years in the NFL are riding on the chance to come in and be big time producers. The race is wide open behind Hester, arguably ahead of Hester and with Jay Cutler and Matt Forte here for the long term there is an extreme need for someone to complement two future perennial Pro Bowl players.

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Broncos WR Brandon Marshall a no show at mandatory mini-camp

June 12, 2009

The first sign of trouble is when you have unhappy players not showing up to mandatory mini-camps. Marshall was already tied to possible trade and free agency rumors with the Chicago Bears, now he is skipping a mandatory practice.

The question is will this grow into something more, and something possibly positive for the Bears.

The need for receivers is well documented and while the Bears won’t be able to Marshall this season. The thought is he could be a possibility at the end of his rookie contract.

This little story may be nothing, but it is something to follow if you’re a fan of the Chicago Bears.

Marshall was extremely productive in Denver playing with Jay Cutler and their positive relationship as teammates is well documented.

I wonder if the young Josh McDaniels is starting to prove that he is in fact over his head and is benefitting from the Patriots already strong offense.

Brandon Marshall skips mandatory mini-camp day one

Chicago Bears OTA Report June 10th

June 11, 2009

Unfortunately it’s coming down to the end of this season’s OTAs with only a week left until the Bears wrap it up. Although it might be a good thing since the nagging injury bug has taken it’s toll on some of the players this year.

Among the most notable injuries, Matt Forte with a strained hamstring, Brian Urlacher a strained groin, Charles Tillman with a shoulder problem, Nick Roach, Tommie Harris, Glenn Earl, Josh Bullocks among others out with injuries.

Only Tillman has managed to return to participate in two of the OTA practices thus far.

The story however has been Tommie Harris and his knee. The never-ending story that his knee is. Harris has apparently taken exception to recent talk about his demise, I even covered it in this blog here how Harris rarely participates and never looks to be at full strength. His knee problem is a major one in the fact that he hasn’t been a 100-percent participant in workouts of any kind for over a year.

Sports talk radio lit up the air waves with talk about whether the Bears should pick up his option next year or is the Jarron Gilbert and Marcus Harrison combination the way to go. My take is we’ll know all we need to know after this season.

Elsewhere the Bears signed all of their rookies during these OTAs. All nine of the draft picks were signed with third rounders Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias signing four year deals yesterday. The Bears as usual are the first team to have all of their draft picks signed and ready to go.

News from the rookie class seems to be that Johnny Knox is making a small name for himself as the rookie that has stood out the most to this point. Knox’s speed in undeniable and his production in college was undeniable leading reason to believe teams may have underestimated how solid of a receiver prospect he actually is.

He came from a small school with high production, but no one really noticed just how dynamite of a play maker he is. He has shown of his speed in camp making big plays out of short routes and showing an ability to get deep. Knox will be one to keep an eye on in the pre-season games once the Bears face some real opposition. You’d like to think that Knox could develop along the same lines as Bernard Berrian did.

Berrian was primarily a deep threat who developed into a more well-rounded receiver as his career went on. Knox has the same level of speed and work ethic that may pay off for the Bears in the long run.

Elsewhere the Bears have been utilizing the TEs in more wide out type roles. Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark both proved to be favorite targets of Jay Cutler. Olsen got loose on a seam pass yesterday for what was probably the play of the day.

This is a dimension of the Bears’ offense that has been severely under utilized the first two years of Olsen’s career. While Olsen was effective last year, this year should be a case where Olsen puts up Tony Gonzales like production. Olsen is to big, to fast and has to great of hands to not be a multi-year Pro-Bowl player from this point forward.

Elsewhere on defense with Brian Urlacher absent Jamar Williams took all of the reps at first team MIKE. Williams appears to be a lock for a roster spot with his ability to play all three LB positions. While he was primarily talked about as Lance Briggs’ eventual replacement, he has now worked himself into position to be the primary back up at all three spots.

Williams’ only downfall is he could be the starter at the SAM spot, but because he has focused on learning all three LB spots and been a special teams wizard he is a back up for now.

The secondary is still getting shuffled around on a near weekly basis. Corey Graham took some reps at nickel back and is starting to show he has versatility to his game with an ability to play corner, safety and nickel. Danieal Manning sat out this work out with a minor injury.

Pisa Tinoisamoa ran with the first team at SAM with Nick Roach battling the injurgy bug. The recent Bears free agent acquisition is battling to start at the SAM spot. He led the Rams in tackles last year but doesn’t have the ideal size you’d like to see in a SAM backer.

The Bears definitely favor speed over size at the SAM spot. A report had Tinoisamoa playing at only 225-pounds last year. An extremely lean weight for a linebacker prospect in the NFL. Hopefully the report is more myth than fact, but that weight report is something I”ll keep an eye on going forward.

On the offensive line Josh Beekman has been sliding between center and guard but has kept ahold of his job as first team offensive guard to this point. Obviously there won’t be much movement on the offensive line of any real important note until the pads go on. Frank Omiyale and Beekman will have a major battle ahead of them at training camp. Both offer versatility in that Omiyale can slide out and play tackle and Beekman can slide in and play center.

The battle between Beekman and Omiyale figures to be one of the best battles to watch during training camp. Beekman may not be an elite level player but he continues to play well, continues to improve and there’s no reason to think his job is in danger.

We’ll have another full report next week at the conclusion of OTAs. Any news that happens between now and then we’ll keep you updated on.

Other coverage will include how the pre-season magazines rate the Bears’ strengths weaknesses heading into 2009. First up on the list will be coverage from Athlon Sports’ pre-season NFL magazine.

OTA Brief: Brian Urlacher misses today’s workout

June 10, 2009

All the talk since the Jay Cutler trade and since the end of last season has been about the Bears and their defense. The once proud defense that was on the verge of setting all-time NFL records in points allowed in a season, plummeted to near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every category but run defense.

The once proud leader of that defense linebacker Brian Urlacher has seen his production fall of dramatically and coincidentally or otherwise the defense as a whole has suffered.

During OTAs this season and during the off-season program as a whole there has reportedly been a certain bounce in Urlacher’s step. He has been fully healed and has been able to focus on his strength and conditioning like he hasn’t been able to the last two off-seasons.

Reports are that Urlacher has been like a man possessed this off-season, determined to get back to the level of production we once saw from this proud monster of the midway member. This hasn’t been the spin coming out of Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo, but rather insider and more honest reports away from the spin room in Halas Hall.

Urlacher has been to this point a full participant in OTA workouts and practices and has looked like a better player as a result. Will he be back to a defensive player of the year candidate? Likely not, but he could play at a very high level for a 10-year veteran.

Today’s development leaves a little bit of a question. As reported on ESPN 1000 this morning Brian Urlacher was no where in sight at Halas Hall today. Not for workouts, not off to the side in street clothes, not working out a possible injury through rehab stretches or even on a bike.

Sure given that OTA workouts are simply voluntary and Urlacher faces no punishment from it, it may not really be news.

However given the recent positives signs coming from Urlacher during OTA workouts it is something of note when the team captain misses a day.

The question would be going forward is it something serious (likely not) or was it just a persona reason.

We won’t know for sure though until next week when Lovie Smith is able to speak to the media again. A partial media blackout is in place currently. That is to say Lovie Smith will not be talking to the media until all the OTAs are completed next week.

The Super Nova known as Tommie Harris

June 3, 2009

This is a continuing part of my series of roster battles, part of the 53-man roster battle royale. I chose to break in the Tommie Harris evaluation early because of a report I read on the ESPN NFC North blog concerning Tommie Harris’ left knee.

If you haven’t read the report I recommend you do because it’s eye opening in the quotes that Jerry Angelo gives in regards to the left knee of Tommie Harris.

Jerry Angelo is notorious amongst the windy city faithful for his circle talk. Talk that really hits about a point, but doesn’t really answer the question and essentially he’ll blabber on and circle around to his original point.

Lovie Smith and the majority of the Bears’ players are very well schooled by the Bears’ media expert on how to not talk to the media while at the same time seeming like you are.

Jerry Angelo talks about it addressing the main point that I come to this conclusion on, Tommie Harris will never be the player we had hoped he would be. For one and a half seasons Tommie Harris looked like an unstoppable force at the defensive tackle position. He was set to challenge Warren Sapp as perhaps the greatest three-technique DT in the Tampa-2 defense.

Instead all of that evaporated in the latter part of the 2006 season and partially in the early part of the 2007 season. What we can now know is that Tommie Harris plays consistently on a bum knee. A knee that limits his explosiveness, his leverage and his ability to be effective as a pass rusher. His ability in turn makes the players around him better which in turn is the main engine that drives the Bears’ defense.

The main quote you take away from the article from Jerry Angelo is this

Is his knee pristine? No. it’s not.

The rest of the talk that comes afterward is pure circle talk. Don’t be alarmed, not to worry, things will be okay, it’s not as bad as it looks. The fans the media and the analysts are making a story where there is none. To much speculation is a bad thing, you get the idea.

What matters most is the Bears made Tommie Harris the richest defensive lineman in league history barely a year ago and now it appears they will not get their money’s worth out of the deal.

Tommie Harris will never be the player that we had hoped he would be a player that likely could have been defensive player of the league the last two seasons were it not for his knee.

What we do know is that Harris does not practice at 100% capacity nor does he participate 100% of the time. Instead he is limited during the seasons, and now he rarely participates in the regular season.

Could we expect production out of Tommie Harris? Yes perhaps there is still a good level of production that Harris can achieve. But the once dominant force that Harris appeared to on the verge of becoming, is now burning off into the distant memory, the land where Good Rex Grossman still lives on.

The hope here is that Marcus Harrison, or Jarron Gilbert will pick up and be a three technique that is comparable to what Harris was at one time. Perhaps in the infinite potential of these two players the Bears have one, or two that could equal the production that a one Tommie Harris might have brought had the knee not faltered.

Surely we can pass judgment on Jerry Angelo’s failure to recognize this before signing Harris to this long term contract. However money is not the issue here, it’s the production that we will not see. The dominance is gone, the defense that won’t achieve the level it perhaps might have with Harris may now never.

We hope that the defense can be productive and in the future dominant once again. Expecting that to happen with Tommie Harris playing at the level he once did may be a pipe dream.

It’s a sad realization to come to, but a realistic one nonetheless.