15 on 6: Keeping the eye on the prize

15 on 6: Keeping the eye on the prize

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
11:30 PM

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Ouch!

It is midnight and I just got home after coveringwatching a slaughter for Michigan State radio as Alabama crushed my beloved Michigan State Spartans 49-7. A ton of NFL scouts were present including representation by the Chicago Bears. It's just a hunch, but the Bears could not go wrong with selecting any player from the University of Alabama. I don't think my eyes or the score were deceiving of just how much football talent is present at Alabama. What's crazy is all their first round talent are underclassmen. That team has ludicrous talent. I am not going out on a limb declaring them National Champs already for next year. Book it!

Eye on the prize

Things have changed rather quickly concerning today's game against the division rival Green Bay Packers. It all started last Tuesday with the Philadelphia Eagles losing to the Minnesota Vikings. It really was an improbable victory by the Vikings as their season is over. Give former Chicago Bear and interim head coach,Leslie Frazier, a ton of credit. His head coaching fortunes come down to a rookie WR playing QB, Joe Webb. If Leslie prepares the young signal caller for another week, Leslie will have earned himself a head coaching job. The Vikings victory secured the Bears the number two seed in the NFC along with the coveted bye week. It has also altered the coarse for Lovie Smith on the importance of the most storied rivalry in all of football. Does Lovie play his starters?

Lovie will give the first stringers minimal time in today's game as it is now meaningless. He will have them prepare as they will play the whole game and the players must respond with great effort. If it's not displayed, their reward will be to play a little longer. I would suggest they give great effort because after all, it is the Packers who they could see down the road in the playoffs. The one caveat is Jay Cutler. Dom Capers, Green Bay's talented defensive coordinator, will be instructed to bring every blitz possible. They are playing to just stay alive and the sooner Cutler is out of the game, the better. It's a tough call for Lovie whether to play Jay at all. I would start Jay to keep him in the fine groove he's in, but he would be a quick hook. If Jay gets injured, the Bears Super Bowl hopes are lost. The Bears Division Title is already won. Play it smart and keep your eye on the prize. That's how to win an NFL Championship.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Every Thursday night, Bears defensive backs try to all get together at Tracy Porter’s house for dinner. But it’s not about the food.

"None of us can cook," said cornerback Bryce Callahan, laughing.

At the risk of channeling some inner Marc Trestman, it’s about the get-together itself, which always involves popping on some game film and doing extra study beyond the time at Halas Hall. And it’s also building something off the field that they believe they can take onto it.

One of the keys to excellence in any working group is the individuals connecting in ways that make the whole greater than just the sum of the parts. That’s the point ultimately, taking some personal connections onto the field and making the entire defensive backfield collectively better.

Relationships among players have never been recorded as intercepting or even deflecting an NFL pass.

"For me it starts off the field, getting to know one another, how that person is," said cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, familiar with a similar internal chemistry from his time with the New England Patriots.

"You get that feeling for every individual, and you take that on the field. It creates a close bond, and we’ve got that bond. We try to look through each other’s eyes, communicate what you were thinking and he was thinking on this play or that, and that’s the biggest thing."

Offensive lines are generally thought of as the group most benefited by camaraderie and closeness. They typically have an O-line dinner most weeks, with checks for the meal not uncommonly reaching into four-figures.

"Those boys can EAT," LeBlanc marveled. "We stick to wings or ribs."

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But the secondary consists of four individuals rotating coverages the way a line moves with different protections or assignments. Double-teams in the defensive backfield require the same cohesion and familiarity as ones on the other side of the football.

The Bears have started the same base four defensive backs in all three games — Porter and Jacoby Glenn at the corners, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey at the safeties — but the Bears are working in multiple rookies, and Callahan (hamstring) has been inactive along with Kyle Fuller, projected to be the starter at right corner but now on IR. Rookie safety Deon Bush was inactive the first two weeks, then played at Dallas. Rookie corner Deiondre’ Hall was pressed into action on defense for 18 plays at Houston and 28 against Philadelphia.

With the in-game mixes-and-matches necessitated by injuries, the familiarity among secondary members is looked at as nothing short of vital. Comments, right or wrong, from a friend can be taken better/more constructively than ones from a relative stranger.

"Just more of being ready to pick each other up, be ready," Amos said. "It just shows you how quick you can go from scout team to on the field, so everybody has to be talking together.

"The closer we are on and off the field, the better we are together."

LeBlanc agrees.

"We talk to each other like friends, in a unit, trying to dissect a play right after it happens, rewind and see how we can to it better.

"You can’t be out here trying to communicate and you don’t even really know the guy next to you."

Bears facing Lions with Jay Cutler likely out, Alshon Jeffery dealing with hamstring issue

Bears facing Lions with Jay Cutler likely out, Alshon Jeffery dealing with hamstring issue

The official injury designation is “doubtful” but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is unofficially expected to be out of Sunday’s game with the Detroit Lions after not practicing on Thursday or Friday due to his injured right thumb.

“It is a pretty critical area on the quarterback, especially when it's your right thumb and you're a right handed quarterback,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “So you know we're going to get him healthy and that's our main objective and we'll see if he's any further along [Saturday].”

The designation — “questionable” — was brighter for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, except for the mild surprise that he was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a knee issue and then was limited on Friday because of a hamstring.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Jeffery missed six games last season, two separate instances, because of hamstring problems.

Besides Cutler, running backs Ka’Deem Carey (hamstring) and Jeremy Langford (ankle), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (thumb) also did not practice and are listed as doubtful. Carey, Cutler, Goldman and Trevathan all were inactive in Dallas, and Langford suffered his ankle sprain against the Cowboys.

Limited but listed as questionable: guard Josh Sitton (shoulder), outside linebacker Willie Young (knee); and defensive backs Sherrick McManis (hamstring), Tracy Porter (knee) and Harold Jones-Quartey (concussion, cleared).