Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

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Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

It would have been so easy for former Chicago Bears Otis Wilson and Gary Fencik to give the politically correct answers to reducing head injuries.
Sure, players will take themselves out of the game if theyre woozy after a hit. Sure, players will readily tell team doctors and coaches when theyre not feeling right. Sure, the cautionary tales of those suffering lingering concussion issues and those whose premature deaths may have been related to those problems will get through to todays players.
But Wilson and Fencik know a football players mentality.
They know that pride, fear and uncertainty will keep most players from admitting something might be wrong. Still, the two former Bears know that the message still has to be delivered. And the more they and others talk, the more players will listen.
The Bears, with the U.S. Army, hosted a Health and Safety Forum prior to Sunday nights game against the Houston Texans. The session focused on the work the NFL and army are doing together to promote a positive culture change and reduce the stigma related to head injuries.
And all parties know its going to take some time to do that.
You talk about warrior mentality. We dont want to get rid of that. But we want to talk people through everything the league is doing, this type of forum, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. Its going to take years to really get the culture change were looking for.
Wilson used the term dinged when talking about how he felt after some of those hits in his playing days. Players didnt know the affects of concussions as much then. Sometimes they didnt even know they had a concussion. Answer a couple of questions correctly and they were back in the game.
The lingering affects havent hit me yet, said Wilson. When asked if he was sure about that, he said, I remember how I got here and how to get home. My closest friend Dave Duerson, he couldnt remember how to get downtown, couldnt remember a lot of things. When I compare myself to that, Im doing OK now.
Duersons tragic story resonates with Wilson and Fencik, for certain. Duerson committed suicide in February of 2011. In a text to family, Duerson asked his brain be donated for research; three months after his death, neurologists at Boston University confirmed Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
Still, the cautionary tales, even tragic ones like Duersons, dont always resonate immediately. Players may think itll never happen to them, that theyll bounce back quickly if they do suffer a concussion and they could lose their job if they do come out of the game.
You go down for a play, and a guy (behind you on the depth chart) is making 200,000 less, maybe they give him a shot. And you lose your job, Fencik said. Its very difficult for that player. Its a tremendous challenge because its your job. Its something theyve done their entire life.
Still, the message will continue. You cant eradicate concussions completely. You can take out illegal hits, sure, but head injuries are caused on the perfectly legal ones, too. The research is better now than it was in Wilson and Fenciks playing days, and improves every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a consulting clinical neuropsychologist at NorthShore Medical Group, said education is key.
One of the biggest misconceptions?
That you need to be knocked out to have a concussion. You dont, she said. Only 9-10 percent (of head injuries) result in loss of consciousness. You still hear, He wasnt knocked out, so doesnt have concussion. Thats bothersome. Theyre brain injuries. Theyre not just seeing stars for a few seconds.
So the message will keep being delivered. The culture is going to take time to change. Perhaps a suffering player heeding that message wont save his career. But hed be saving something more precious.
We as a group have to let (players) know that its OK if somethings wrong with you: stand on the sideline and get yourself some help, Wilson said. We have to keep talking to one another.

Brandon Marshall responds to tweet asking if he misses Jay Cutler

Brandon Marshall responds to tweet asking if he misses Jay Cutler

The bromance of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall began in Denver when they were drafted together in 2006, and then shifted to Chicago in 2012 via a trade to complete the reunion.

The two instantly hit it off and developed a close relationship on and off the field, a large reason why the Bears acquired Marshall to help spark some old magic.

But things took a turn when Marshall was traded to the New York Jets last offseason.

Asked on Twitter if he misses his former quarterback, Marshall responded with a genuine answer:

Bears sign Chicago native Tony Moeaki, defensive lineman Marquis Jackson

Bears sign Chicago native Tony Moeaki, defensive lineman Marquis Jackson

Tony Moeaki is coming home.

The Bears announced on Thursday that they have signed the former Wheaton Warrenville South standout.

Moeaki attended Bears minicamp on a tryout and impressed the coaching staff enough to secure a deal.

The 29-year-old Moeaki appeared in 11 games for the Atlanta Falcons last season and recorded three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Moeaki was originally selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third-round (93rd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Iowa. He has 91 receptions for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns in 48 career games.

Moeaki is expected to provide tight end depth and compete for a backup spot behind starter Zach Miller.

The Bears also announced the signing of defensive lineman Marquis Jackson, the twin brother of former Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Marquis Jackson entered the NFL in 2013 with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Portland State, but has not appeared in a regular-season NFL game. 

In corresponding roster moves, the Bears waived defensive lineman Kenton Adeyemi and linebacker Don Cherry.

Minicamp wrap: Three answers to 'So, how do the Bears look?'

Minicamp wrap: Three answers to 'So, how do the Bears look?'

The Bears concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday, ending on a short-term feel-good — coach John Fox canceling the last offseason practice before training camp starts on July 27.

“They’ve earned it,” Fox said with a tone that suggested a degree of satisfaction in what he’d seen at this point of his 15th NFL head coaching season. “I don’t just do that because I feel like it. They worked real hard. We had great participation and they worked extremely hard. They earned it.”

Positive beliefs are frequently easy to find this far in advance of games that matter. But within the work of the OTA’s and minicamp were “tells,” signs that the Bears clearly believe they are nothing like the squad that wobbled through four losses in its final five games to finish 6-10.

But how exactly DO the Bears look as their pre-camp work wraps up? Three answers to that question emerged over the past several weeks:

1. They really AREN’T the same team from a year ago, or even six months ago.

Fox is among those who maintain that big jumps occur from year one to year two for players, particularly young ones. But more than individual players make year-one-to-year-two leaps.

Fox’s Carolina Panthers improved from seven to 11 wins from his first to second seasons with them, reaching the Super Bowl in year two (2003). His Denver Broncos teams went from eight wins in Fox’s year-one (2011) to 13 in year two.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” Fox said. “But I’m pleased with where we are this year. If I had to compare to something, it would be this time last year and I feel much better about where we are now than I did at this time a year ago.”

Easy to say, but consider: This time a year ago, six current starters on defense (Mitch Unrein, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Tracy Porter, Harold Jones-Quartey) were not practicing. Jones-Quartey and Unrein were not even Bears.

This time a year ago, Jared Allen was trying to be a linebacker. Brock Vereen was a starting safety. Eddie Goldman was out of shape and barely practicing. Kevin White was busy stress-fracturing his left leg. Jordan Mills was the starting right tackle.

Yes, Fox should feel “much better.”

2.  Bears D is visibly “night and day from last year”

The 2015 Bears defense went into Week 17 last season with exactly one defensive lineman (Will Sutton) who’d been with the team going into training camp. The unit finished 29th allowing third-down conversions and 30th in interception rate, among other less-than-stellar indicators.

Through this minicamp, the practice field frequently echoed with whoops from a defense that had picked off a pass or knocked a football loose. Quarterback Jay Cutler was rarely intercepted through camp last year, a sign of what was to come under coordinator Adam Gase through the regular season. This year he has not had his way with the defense.

“Just going against them from my perspective, it seems like night and day from last year,” Cutler said. “Just going against these guys, it’s a much different group, much different group. They’re faster, they’re quicker and they’ve got a confidence about them. I think Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] really doing a good job of mixing it up and showing us different looks.

“They’re going to help us out, get some short fields, get some turnovers, put some pressure on us to do our job on offense.”

3. Meshing vets adamant: “We can accomplish a lot here.”

Simply bringing a bunch of even talented veterans assures absolutely nothing (insert Daniel Snyder joke here). The Bears experienced that when in 2014 they brought in Allen, Houston and Young, then saw the defense remain at epic lows as the Bears went from 8-8 to 5-11.

This offseason the Bears brought in two starting inside linebackers (Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan) behind a massive defensive end (Akiem Hicks). On offense, Kyle Long returned to guard from tackle as the Bears signed workout-mate Bobby Massie, among other changes.

And the result of bringing together multiple players from winning programs has contributed to a palpable attitude adjustment to one that was conspicuously absent last year.

“I feel like, that you know a lot of people doubt [teammates] or some guys were hurt last year or this and that,” said Trevathan, a Super Bowl winner with Denver last season and who had his ring on display for teammates on Wednesday. “But you know, they're playing like they're hungry, with a chip on their shoulder. They're playing like they're hungry and that's what I'm used to and that's where you need to start.”

“Hungry” in June doesn’t necessarily mean wins in Fall. But a lack of hunger or shoulder-chip typically does point to looming problems, so the strong attitude the other way does count for something.

“There’s a lot of great talent here,” said Massie, a playoff veteran from the Arizona Cardinals under coach Bruce Arians. “And this team can accomplish a lot of good things. From the past team I’ve been with I see a lot of the things that we had with those past teams here. So we can accomplish a lot here.”