Moon: Bears shufflin' through practice squad

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Moon: Bears shufflin' through practice squad

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 11:04 a.m. Updated: 1:15 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
Its 9 oclock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles inPiano Man, Billy Joel

Its a few more than just the usual crowd, as you might suspect.

You just knew this is something big when a couple of guys in really nice suits showed up to place the shined, unscratched Bears and Packers helmets on a cloth-covered table in front of the Halas Hall auditorium podium, and the National Football Conference Championship backdrop screen was in place early.

And then about 11:15 a.m. a league official with a very official-looking hard case comes in, opens the case, puts on white gloves, and takes out the Halas Trophy for display with the two team helmets.

The Halas Trophy on display at Halas Hall. ... Its appropriate.

The crackle was almost audible Wednesday as the national and even international media began pulling in. Actually the crackle was audible; its called static, and getting wires pulled and cables hooked up in sub-freezing temps was causing a bit of it.

And as for media turnout? I asked one Bears staffer what the number of credential requests was looking like. His simple answer was better than any figure: Infinity.infinity.

Rostering

Bears-Packers doesnt mean that normal business stops at Halas Hall. The Bears shuffled their practice squad Wednesday, adding linebacker Patrick Trahan and terminating the contract of wide receiver Rashaun Greer.

Best guess is that they need more bodies at linebacker to run the Green Bay 3-4 defensive scheme in practice for the Bears offense.

Earlier the Bears had signed quarterback Matt Gutierrez to a reservefutures contract, lining him up for work with the Bears this offseason. Gutierrez was an emergency addition last training camp when Caleb Hanie went down with a shoulder injury.
Not impressed

The Halas Trophy (Ive chronicled the arrival here) that the Bears won in 1985 (the game was in 86) was nicer than the one theyre using now. The oldn had an elegant wood base with, I believe, a glass football as the main element.

This new one (an NFL official just told me this is the first year for it) is very high-tech looking, chrome, a sorta-football with four strips of the chrome forming the football.

Jay-Birding

Jay Cutler has not had his best games against the Green Bay Packers. Far from it. The Bears quarterback has faced the Packers five times, four as a Bear, and has a combined passer rating of 65.0, with 5 TD passes and 9 interceptions.

Three of his four Bears games against Green Bay have been losses. His one passable (pun intended) Chicago performance came in the first meeting this year when he posted a rating of 82.5. He delivered a 95.7 mark in a loss as a Denver Bronco but that was in 2007 before the Packers completely overhauled their defense and its staff.

Notably for current purposes, that Denver game was the only one in which he has not thrown an interception against the Packers.

Last year we had an entirely different scheme, Cutler said. The last time we played them they did a lot of different things to disrupt our passing.

If Cutler plays well and the Bears win, hell never buy another drink in Chicago. But the history of a moment can be a burden at a time when he and teammates dont need any more on their minds plates than is already there.

Itll be tough with all the preparation, Cutler said. Weve got to keep our mind on the game with all the other stuff going on.

Everyone in the locker room knows whats at stake in this game but were going to enjoy it, were going to play our game, going to be loose and just focus on that.

More than perhaps at any press meeting this year, Cutler seemed to be enjoying himself. He looked directly at questioners as they were posing their queries, smiled repeatedly at various points and was visibly at ease.

Its fun to be in this rivalry in this position, Cutler said.

Funny thought

The high-tech Halas Trophy is probably polished chrome (a league official is checking on exactly what its made of) but Peggy Kusinski had the best guess on its composition: If its the Halas Trophy, its probably nickel, Peggy said, with a deft reference to Papa Bears throwing nickels around like manhole covers, attributed to Mike Ditka.

Looking at time

Linebacker Lance Briggs was in this position four years ago when the Bears were a game away from a Super Bowl they ultimately reached with a win in Soldier Field. This time feels different.

That was a first time, Briggs said. You dont know what to expect. I had to drive all the way downtown for press events put on a big suit. This time were playing a very familiar foe and its in Soldier Field again. So really it just having been through the experience.

The Bears defense has a number of key members (Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije) past the age of 30 but that doesnt make this into a last-chance kind of thing as far as Briggs is concerned.

Im 30, not dead, Briggs said. I dont how many years Ill play but Im going to enjoy it.

Briggs acknowledged the locker room was sour after Peppers was signed and the Bears released defensive end Alex Brown. Not because of Peppers, Briggs corrected quickly. Because of Alex being released.

Running man
When Matt Forte has gotten the ball, the Bears have gotten wins. They were undefeated (6-0) in games where Forte had 17 or more carries. Its just that simple.

Its not that simple, Forte said, smiling. But he did note that if we get more carries, it allows the running back to get in rhythm and it helps the offensive line get into a rhythm as well.

The mild-mannered running back will leave any Bears-Packers venom to somebody else this week. As far as hating the Green Bayites, I think thats more for the fans to do that, he said. I dont really hate anybody. I just concentrate on going out there and playing good football.

Forte has played six games against the Packers, with only modest success. He has average 3.6 yards per carry and scored just once. Oddly perhaps, he averaged 2.6 yards per carry in the Game 3 win but 6.1 in the final-game loss at Green Bay.
The biggest Bears-Packers names

A number of famous Bears and Packers names will be popping up all week. Coach Lovie Smith started with two of the biggest Wednesday.

Im sure George Halas and Vince Lombardi are pretty pumped up about their teams this week, Smith said.

Since beating Green Bay was his first stated goal when he was hired, and winning the Super Bowl was the third and final goal, this game is particularly appropriate as far as Smith is concerned.

No matter where you are, there is always a team you have to beat, Smith said. To have to beat the Packers to get to the Super Bowl, our ultimate goal, is the way it should be.

Smith thought this team was the best he has had since coming in as Bears coach and said so to anyone who was interested in listening. That the Bears werent expected to be a factor, and certainly werent expected to be where they are right now, has at times amused Smith. And on another level, it wasnt particularly amusing.

Its definitely been a part of what weve dealt with this year, Smith said, then pulled back to look at the bigger picture. Its hard to see how a team would be an underdog in the playoffs.
Dont over-think it

The NFC Championship will be the third time in 2010 that the Bears and Packers will see each other. It is the third time they have prepared for each other, watched film on each other, prepared for the football games and mind games.

It can be possible, coordinator Mike Martz said, to over-think your game plans in these situations.

The mistake in these situations can be assuming that the opponent knows more about you than they do, Martz said. I think you have to be very careful of it. If youre not careful you can get away from why youre there in the first place and do some things that you didnt need to do.

The final regular-season game is one that Martz probably hopes the Packers study in detail. Because that game was not one that Martz will put on his Bears resume.

In a game with no meaning in the standings for the Bears, Martz called 45 pass plays, 6 of them resulting in sacks of Jay Cutler, and only ran 20 times, albeit for 110 yards.

I did not do a good job of calling the game at all, got away from some things we do well, Martz said. It was uncharacteristic of who we are. You go back and look at some of the things you did in that game and try to correct them.

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.

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

It's easy to dismiss preseason games, but they can't be ignored when a team is severely outplayed in every sense of the word.

That was the case for the Bears on Saturday afternoon as they were dismantled by the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7, in front of a crowd of 48, 377 at Soldier Field to remain winless on the preseason.

The Bears starting offense compiled a net of 65 yards as they couldn't find a rhythm against a Chiefs defense playing without Pro Bowlers' Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was able to stay upright for most of the game as the starting offensive line allowed just two sacks, but Cutler was plagued by a few drops from his receivers and was off target for most of the afternoon, finishing 6/15 with 45 yards and a passer rating of 47.9. The Bears starting wide receiving tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White registered the same amount of drops (three) as they did receptions. The lone highlight from the starting offensive unit came from second-year running Jeremy Langford who twice turned broken plays into positive gains, showing a remarkable improvement in that facet from his rookie season.

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While the starting offensive unit will draw much-deserved criticism for their performance against the Chiefs, the defense didn't fare that much better.

The starting 11, playing without Pernell McPhee and Kyle Fuller, allowed 239 total yards in the first half. The starting unit also lost their only proven cornerback when eight-year veteran Tracy Porter entered the NFL's concussion protocol after taking a knee to the head by teammate Harold Jones-Quartey in the second quarter. 

Despite Saturday's mediocre play by the defense, there were some positives including the first NFL interception by Bears rookie cornerback Deiondre' Hall who looks to be squarely in the mix for a starting cornerback job with the abundance of injuries at the position. Rookie defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard also continued his strong preseason play with another sack. First-rounder Leonard Floyd suited up but didn't play due to a hamstring injury.

The Bears finally broke a near 55-minute scoring drought when third-string quarterback Connor Shaw connected with wide receiver Cameron Meredith for a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Shaw suffered a left ankle injury on the next series and had to leave on a cart. He finished the game 5/6 for 65 yards and a touchdown, also adding 15 rushing yards on two carries.

In two preseason home games the Bears have been outscored 45-7. They were blanked by the Denver Broncos back in Week 1 on Aug. 15.

The Bears will look to avoid going winless for the first time in franchise history in preseason when they close out their exhibition slate against the Browns in Cleveland next Thursday.

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

The storyline has already been formed: If the Bears are forced to go with undrafted Cornelius Edison as their center, the 2016 season is lost.

“I mean, how ridiculous to think that an undrafted free agent could be the starting center for the Chicago Bears, and they win,” deadpanned Jay Hilgenberg, making less than no attempt to mask the irony in his voice.

With very good reason.

Because Hilgenberg himself came into the NFL as an afterthought, undrafted out of Iowa in 1981 and then going on to an 11-year career with the Bears, capped by a Super Bowl ring in 1985. Seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections.

Ridiculous.

Edison may come nowhere near the heights reached by Hall of Fame nominee Hilgenberg. Or of Hall of Fame Miami center Jim Langer, also undrafted. But Hilgenberg has a strong bit of advice for Edison, who started Saturday in the Bears preseason game vs. Kansas City and could be their starter on Opening Day, depending on health elsewhere on the interior of the Bears offensive line.

“I would say to him, ‘You’re in an NFL camp because you can play football,’” Hilgenberg told CSNChicago.com. “Don’t let how you entered that camp take anything away from you. You deserve to be there. You just need to prove it a little bit more than the first-rounders.’”

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It may not always be easy, of course.

Hilgenberg, who fought his way onto the final roster in 1981, once famously turned to then-teammate Revie Sorey on the bench during a blowout of the Bears in Hilgenberg’s first season, and said, “Revie, we’re the worst team in the NFL.”

Sorey, never one to duck the truth, nodded.

Hilgenberg added, “And I’m the worst player on this team.”

Again, no disagreement from Sorey.

“So that makes me the worst player in the NFL, doesn’t it?” Hilgenberg concluded.

Silence from Sorey.

Hilgenberg turned out to not be the worst player in the NFL, but not without epic struggles, and he knows what Edison will be going through. And how the young center can make it.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie class making much-needed impact]

“To be honest there is always a little insecurity in you,” Hilgenberg recalled. “I had confidence that I belonged but I had to fight every day. And the truth is, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. I was going to make it.

“I didn’t have Plan B. I didn’t want to go back to Iowa then, so I didn’t have Plan B.

Hilgenberg used teams’ not drafting him as motivation, and Bears teammates recalled him savoring facing supposed elite defensive linemen, No. 1 picks, and handling them. Beyond his attitude, however, was a method.

“I played against a lot of big, strong guys in the NFL, and I wasn’t going to back down from anybody,” Hilgenberg said. “As soon as you learn how to play with the right fundamentals, you learn that there’s no Supermen out there. If you can play fundamentally and with good technique, you can block anybody… .

“Offensive line play is honestly all about how bad you want it. How much are you willing to do? How important is it to you? What does it mean to you?”

Edison is in the process of answering those exact questions.

Bears looking beyond individual players in third preseason game

Bears looking beyond individual players in third preseason game

“The all-important third preseason game… .”

Or is it?

The short answer is yes, because “it'll be the most extended play of the starters we have available will play,” said coach John Fox.

In fact, it has been said that before training camps ever begin, upwards of 45 roster spots are pretty well decided. And the combination of camp time and first two preseason games have taken care of perhaps all but the finest of tunings of roster decisions.

“You know we've got some guys that we've evaluated on a lot of football plays before the third preseason game,” Fox said, “so albeit it is important, we have a pretty good idea about some of our players.”

[MORE: Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game]

So while individual players are tasked with taking steps up in their development – wide receiver Kevin White with just two catches so far, for instance – the focus now shifts from predominantly player evaluation to broader questions of how well whole units are performing together. Each unit has its own challenges in a preseason that is still waiting for the Bears’ first win:

Next step for offense

The shutout at the hands of the Denver Broncos in Game 1 was jolting, preseason or not. The 11 points by the offense in New England was promising.

Now what?

The offensive production last season was disappointing but yet respectable because of the unmatched parts Cutler needed to work with because of injuries at receiver besides losing No. 1 tailback Matt Forte for three full games and most of a fourth. Scoring: 23rd. Rushing yards: 11th. Plus Cutler’s career-best passer composite: 92.3.

That won’t be good enough in 2016. Regardless of the myriad changes ranging from coordinator on through running back, tight end and the offensive line, Cutler himself set the bar by pre-emptively ruling out possible excuses.

“Solely just Year 1 to Year 2,” Cutler said. “I think there’s going to be less thinking. I think we have a better idea of what we like in the offense; what we don’t like in the offense; where we need to improve; what we need to add. I think personnel-wise we’re getting better and better.”

The offense won’t put its entire playbook on display against the Chiefs. But “need to improve” is the mantra, and that extends through the running-back “committee,” the offensive line regardless of who’s on the field, and the receivers from White in his biggest dose of playing time to tight ends tasked with replacing Martellus Bennett as well as contributing to a run game that forms the foundation of the offense.

Defensive dominance, if you please

Upgrading the defense was the foremost priority of the 2016 offseason, beginning with inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan and lineman Akiem Hicks, and on into the draft when the Bears invested seven of their nine draft picks, including two of the first three, on that side of the football.

“I think we have a chance to be a better defense than we were last year, but the proof will be in the pudding,” coordinator Vic Fangio is on record saying. “Practice is the quiz; the games are the final exam. So until we start playing and see exactly what we’ve got, that will determine the true answer to that question. But I think we have a chance to be better.”

The first two preseason games involved the No. 1 defense but not to the degree that Game 3 will. And as of now, no starting quarterback has been sacked by a Bear, and no defensive starter has a sack through two games, although rotation’ers Sam Acho, Jonathan Bullard, Leonard Floyd and Cornelius Washington have at least a partial sack.

The Kansas City offense was No. 3 in rushing average, sixth in rushing yards per game and ninth in points per game last season. The Bears have yet to make a definitive statement that they are close to an elite defense, which is a prerequisite to moving significantly past the 6-10 record in 2015.

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How “special” are ‘teams?

The Bears were a respectable 12th in the special-teams ranking of Dallas Morning News legend Rick Gosselin, a mix of 22 categories that produces a meaningful evaluation of special teams. But the Broncos’ average starting position was their 32, vs. the Bears’ at the Chicago 21. Based on 12 possessions, that loosely translates into 132 field-position yards the Broncos had on the Bears.

The Patriots’ average start was the New England 32; the Bears’ was their own 24, meaning eight yards average on 10 possessions. However, one New England possession started at the Chicago 15 because of a Brian Hoyer interception, skewing the overall.

Meaning: The Bears improved from Week 1 to Week 2 in gaining field position. That needs to develop into a trend that benefits both the offensive and defensive units.

The overall goal is clear: “Improve from Week 2 to Week 3,” Fox said. “We’re here. It’s not a season; they call it preseason for reasons; it’s to evaluate, put your players in positions, take a look at players.”