For defensive players, rules change overdue

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For defensive players, rules change overdue

The NFL owners meetings have addressed a number of rules changes, as per annual custom, and among them is one involving safety of defensive players, too often disregarded.

The concept of defenseless players is usually applied to receivers stretching to make a catch. But now it is being expanded to include defensive players against crackback blocks to the head and neck.

One of the loud grievances voiced by defensive players is how the preponderance of concern is given to the offense by a league seeking to protect points-producers. Now it is illegal to deliver a blow to the head or neck of a defenseless defender, to go with it being already illegal to deliver a crackback blow to the knees.

Overprotective? No. These are life-altering hits in a sport filled with enough of them already. And the league sends a statement to its defensive players that their safety counts, too, which a number of them have long seriously doubted.

Several other measures of note came up for decisions as well:

No more one-possession OT games. The playoff test for according both teams scoring opportunities in overtime was judged a success and now it will apply in regular-season games. A team can win outright with a kickoff return for a TD but not a field goal, without the opposing team having a possession to answer.

Replay for all turnovers. Turnovers are the single biggest determinant of game outcomes. Now they will all be given a look to confirm. Ideally that happens quickly but now it will commence without an unnecessary stall for coaches to hear from their own booths and throwing the red flag.

Replay stays with field officials. The notion was advanced to have all decisions reside with an official in the replay booth. The final call will stay with the referee on the field, where it ultimately belongs.

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Both teams are on track to be drafting in the top five, and the inevitable “the loser is the winner” talk has made its rounds, meaning that a defeat moves the loser higher in the draft order. The reality is that neither team will tank the game for draft position.

But the chances of two woeful teams playing well are slim. The 49ers won in Week 1 and then have lost 10 straight. The Bears are trying to avoid losing four straight for the first time under John Fox.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst upon the NFL scene in 2012 with a blowout of the Bears in his first start. He has regained his starting job in San Francisco and is still one of the prototypical mobile quarterbacks.

But the 49ers are the NFL’s worst defense in both points and yardage allowed, and they are the worst rushing defense in the league. Expect the Bears to try exploiting that and give quarterback Matt Barkley a balanced run-pass game plan.

Prediction: Bears 24, 49ers 20

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.