Bears' depth to be tested against New Orleans

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Bears' depth to be tested against New Orleans

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 12:24 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
For much of the 2010 season, the Bears were lucky. Once their offensive line got past its early season injuries (five different lines in the first seven games), only a few positions changed hands because of injury.

But after just one week of 2011, the quality of the Bears reserves could well determine whether this team is close is a playoff berth three months from now, when a game or two can be the difference between just 16 games and continuing on into the lightning round.

Starters are starters for a reason. But the Bears lose little if anything with the reserves being plugged into unfortunate openings.

Four positions come sharply into focus heading into New Orleans:

Wide receiver

Roy Williams caught all four of the passes thrown to him in the Atlanta game before straining a groin the fourth quarter. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, was limited on Friday and is officially listed as questionable.

Johnny Knox took the starters share of reps all week with the No. 1 offense.

This is the same Johnny Knox whose job was given to Williams. Then again, it is not the same Johnny Knox in the ways that matter. Knoxs mistakes have been cut back. Sometimes tough love is the best kind.

Hes made tremendous improvement each and every day, worked to get better, and thats what you look for in a young guy every time you go out there, said receivers coach Darryl Drake. Hes got to continue to do that. The thing were looking for now is consistency, being where hes supposed to be and doing things right.

Knox led the Bears in receiving yards (960), TDs (five), average yards per catch (18.8 yards) and tied for team high with 51 receptions more production than Williams has had in any season since 2006, the year after his Pro Bowl year.
Safety

Veteran Chris Harris was unable to practice all week on an injured hamstring and is listed as doubtful; he wont play.

But the Bears invested a high draft choice (third round) in Chris Conte and followed that in the days before the first game by signing Brandon Meriweather after his release by New England. Meriweather is a prototypical free safety, is expected start at that spot.

Lovie Smith and his staff routinely describe their safety positions as interchangeable. Not necessarily true, literally.

They teach you both safety spots and I think thats what hes talking about, Meriweather said. If you know one, you have to know the other. Since day one, Ive been trying to learn both.

The 2010 third-round pick, Major Wright, will work at strong safety, where his tackling ability is a plus.

The depth behind the depth Conte has had coaches excited since training camp.

Hes everything youre looking for in a safety, said Smith, a defensive back himself at Tulsa. Theres a reason why we drafted him as high as we did. He has excellent hands, has picked up the defense fairly quick, weve played him on special teams and hes made plays on it. Everything you look for in a guy before he breaks out, he has.

Right guard

Chris Spencer stepped in when Lance Louis went down last Sunday with an ankle injury and has worked with the No. 1 unit this week. His better position is perhaps center, but for loose comparisons sake, the Bears averaged 1.7 yards per carry in the first half vs. Atlanta and 4.7 in the second, which was played entirely with Spencer at guard.

If there is a falloff, it is difficult to see. Edwin Williams is the other alternative at right guard and took reps with the 1s this week. He was deemed good enough to leave there last season when Louis was healthy enough after a minor leg injury.
Running back
The most concerning problem created by injury is at No. 2 running back, where Marion Barber practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, then not at all the rest of the week. Kahlil Bell gave the Bears 10 carries last Sunday to spell Matt Forte and averaged 2.4 yards a carry (Chester Taylors average for 2010), and is an upgrade from Taylor, if a falloff from hard-running Barber and obviously from Forte.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

This week marks the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, depending on how you want to look at organized team activities (OTA’s), the third stage of the NFL offseason culminating in the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. Teams are allowed a total of 10 OTA sessions, giving coaches a final look at players before the break until training camp convenes in late July.

The sessions also mark the first time that the players, who were finishing college semesters this time a year ago, will be introduced to the REAL NFL, the professionals already part of the August fraternity to which the draft picks and undrafted free agents aspire.

Well, maybe it's not the true first time some of the rookies will “meet” the pros.

During the brief rookie minicamp, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn did as all the coaches do: show his position group the film of them going through their drills. In the interest of accelerating the young players’ learning curve, however, Washburn went a step further.

[MORE: Bears QB coach Dave Ragone doesn't mind his type of turnover]

He followed the rookie film with the same drills being run by the pros, meaning the rookies could see how Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair and other vets did those same drills.

The difference was startling – as Washburn intended. The kids were being shown a new meaning for what they might have thought was “maximum effort.”

“That’s one thing coach ‘Wash and coach Ben [Wilkerson] have really been pushing to us — just making sure we’re doing everything to maximum effort, and always finishing near the ball,” said rookie lineman Jordan Morgan. “I feel like that’s stuff you hear at every level of football, but more so now, especially, it being the NFL.”

Rules limit the amount of work allowed vs. opposition, meaning how much Morgan might learn by going against a Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman or Pernell McPhee. But learning the every-play intensity at the NFL level may be difficult to comprehend for players who’ve obviously seen it done this hard before.

“The way the veteran guys run [the drills] is the way you’re supposed to do it,” Washburn said. “There’s a style of play, a work ethic you have to put into this. You can’t just get away with things because the guy in front of you is as good or better than you are.

“Scheme-wise, that has not been a problem, the way it has been with some rookies I’ve had in the past. It’s the day-to-day intensity and focus you have to put in for 16 weeks. That is a big adjustment.”

The NFL is replete with examples of college players arriving with elite physical abilities but not taking effort and learning intensity to the professional level. The Bears used the No. 8 overall pick of the 2001 draft on wide receiver David Terrell, who’d dominated on raw ability at the college level but never developed beyond a mid-level wideout.

Washburn saw something similar while coaching offensive line for the Detroit Lions.

“I had a rookie guard in Detroit who ate Hot Pockets and played video games at night,” Washburn recalled. “His rookie year he got by, played OK, but then had a big slump his sophomore year and said, ‘I gotta change my ways.’

“He absolutely changed everything and now he’s an absolute pro.”

If Bears rookies do anything video with their nights, Washburn intends for those videos to be the ways the pros do it

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Jim Harbaugh is a former Chicago Bear, but that's not the main reason why he'll be rooting for the Monsters of the Midway this fall.

Harbaugh, the current Michigan head coach and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, used to coach alongside current Bears assistants Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell in the Bay Area.

Fangio, the Bears' defensive coordiantor, and Donatell, the Bears' defensive backs coach, held those same positions for all four of Harbaugh's seasons leading the Niners.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Harbaugh voiced his support for his former assistants Monday, speaking with CSN's Pat Boyle at the Golf.Give.Gala golf outing in St. Charles.

"I know (the Bears) are going to have a heck of a defense," Harbaugh said. "Because I know they've got Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell and a tremendous coaching staff. So I'll be pulling hard for them."

Harbaugh also was asked about new Bears quarterback Mike Glennon, and you can hear his comments in the video above, as well as comments from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on another new Bears quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.