Moon: Garza staying put at center

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Moon: Garza staying put at center

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011
Posted: 10:52 a.m. Updated: 5:02 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin READ: Urlacher leaves team following mother's death
READ: NFC North makes a statement in Week 1

The play of Roberto Garza at center has helped with at least one new decision on the offensive line

Right guard Lance Louis injured right ankle, hurt during the Atlanta game, has him decidedly questionable for next Sunday. Chris Spencer, who replaced Louis during the game, split reps with Edwin Williams in Louis spot as the Bears will leave Garza in place after a near-flawless game of directing the line. Stability and experience at that position also become crucial in a game where noise makes offensive line play dicey at best.

The most pleasing thing and really something that came into my decision, am I going to make one move or two moves? was the fact that Roberto had no mental errors against Atlanta, said line coach Mike Tice.

Garza has played primarily at right game through his career. But he has developed a strong chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to taking charge of a group of offensive linemen with fewer than half combined career starts (53) than he has (125).

Pancake chef?

Lance Louis was having perhaps his best game as a Bear when he suffered his ankle injury. In the span of 20 plays, Louis had five different Falcons on the ground with his blocks. He played physical and with great confidence, Mike Tice said.

Planning ahead

Strong-side linebacker Nick Roach typically takes a few reps each week at the middle-linebacker spot, where he is Brian Urlachers backup in addition to rookie Dom DeCicco. If Urlacher is unavailable because of the death of his mother this week, expect Roach to move to the middle and Brian Iwuh to start in Roachs spot.

We have a backup plan, coach Lovie Smith said, then deadpanned. Id like to be able to talk about that, but you can understand why Im not going to. Hopefully well have Brian ready to go this week. But if he cant, we feel good with our next plan.

What'd you say?

The Seattle Seahawks Qwest Field is generally considered the NFLs noisiest. But the Superdome is in the team photo for din level and the Bears are preparing for a noise situation.

Common remedies are silent snap counts started by a pre-arranged signal, hand-holding to assure simultaneous get-offs by the offensive line and others. That will include practicing inside the Walter Payton Center on Thursday with speakers maxd out with crowd noise when the offense is working on its game plan.

We got to be able to hear something, so well work on different types of counts and stuff, said center Roberto Garza. Obviously the tomorrow will get us ready for that. But obviously, were going to have to communicate and make up some calls or by hand signals or whatever we have to do, to get the job done.

Of course, there is one very successful big-picture way of curing the New Orleans noise problem.

It depends on how the game is going, said tackle Frank Omiyale, a member of the Atlanta Falcons playing the first game in the rebuilt Superdome after the damage done by Katrina. You can even be outside the stadium and if the crowds rocking, it can be rough. The best thing is to score and take the crowd out of the game.

Eye on the new guy

The football hope for the Bears is that Brian Urlacher is in a place to play Sunday in New Orleans after the passing away of his mother at her home in Texas this week. Because if Urlacher is somehow forced by family business to miss the game against the New Orleans Saints, the Bears are beyond thin behind him.

The Bears are a combined 7-16 in games without Urlacher, including the2009 opening-day loss at Green Bay when he broke his wrist andmissed the second half when the Bears could not come up with a latedefensive stop to hold a lead on the Packers. They were 0-7 in 2004when Urlacher was inactive at three different times with various legissues.

Urlacher is expected back but rookie undrafted free agent Dom DeCicco right now is listed as the No. 2 and only other middle linebacker on the roster. And DeCicco played almost exclusively at safety for Dave Wannstedt at Pitt, with a handful of starts at weakside linebacker his only linebacker experience.

Ive never played linebacker so this is really the only scheme I know as a linebacker, said DeCicco, who is a key figure in coverage units of special teams. So this is all I know so I cant really compare.

On the plus side, he certainly wont have to un-learn a whole lot of bad habits or tendencies.

Id say the thing thats benefited me the most is knowing the formation and knowing your keys on every play, DeCicco said. As long as you know your key, it seems like you can play that position pretty well.

Saintly behavior

If it seemed to the New Orleans Saints that their new center, Olin Kreutz, was up and running awfully fast, it wasnt just their imagination.

After contracts between Kreutz and the Bears broke off the first Saturday of training camp, Kreutz went to visit the Saints. He clearly liked what he heard and, unbeknownst to the Saints, was planning on sticking around.

Hed watched practice, met with folks and went back to his hotel before a flight scheduled that night for 7 p.m. The next day, a deal was worked out with the Saints and agent Mark Bartlestein, and the question was, when can Kreutz be back to begin work?

The answer was that he had never left the airport hotel, said Saints coach Sean Payton. He had purposely not gotten on the flight and two hours later he was at practice at center.

Sick bay

The No. 1 units on both sides of the ball were without key figures Wednesday as guard Lance Louis (ankle) and receiver Roy Williams (groin) were held out of practice, and safety Chris Harris (hamstring) was out along with Urlacher.

Running back Marion Barber (calf) practiced on a limited basis, as did cornerback Zackary Bowman (hamstring) and linebacker Lance Briggs (knee).

The Saints will be without receiver Marques Colston (shoulder), and safety Roman Harper (ankle) was out of practice along with kicker Garrett Hartley.

Urlacher wins award

As he was after the first time he played the Atlanta Falcons, Urlacher has been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the havoc he visited on various Falcons.

Urlacher recorded 10 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception and returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown in the 30-12 victory last Sunday.

About the only worry was whether or not a couple of Bears teammates would cost him the award by virtue of their own performances. Defensive end Julius Peppers posted 2 sacks, one to force the fumble that Urlacher toted into the end zone, broke up a pass, had 4 pressures of quarterback Matt Ryan and recovered another fumble.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton had 2 sacks, 6 pressures of Ryan and 3 solo tackles in a disruptive debut as a starter.

Urlachers fumble return touchdown marked the fourth score in his career and the first since an 85-yard interception return on Dec. 23, 2007 versus Green Bay. It was the first fumble return touchdown for Urlacher since a 90-yarder at Atlanta on October 7, 2001, a game after which he also was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

His other touchdown came on a 27-yard reception at Washington on December 23, 2001. Urlachers interception was the 19th of his career, third most in franchise history among linebackers. He has recorded an interception in nine of his 12 NFL seasons. Since joining the NFL in 2000, Urlachers 19 interceptions are fourth most among NFL linebackers.

This is Urlachers sixth Defensive Player of the Week Award, tied for the most in franchise history with Pro Football Hall of Famer DE Richard Dent.

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 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.”

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Third preseason games come with added significance simply because it is the one practice game in which the starters play the closest to a full game prior to the start of the regular season. But for the Bears, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is potentially far more important for another reason.

The Kansas City game looms as something of a new tipping point in the one relationship that must function above all others for immediate success of the franchise:

The working relationship/bond between offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler.

The two-plus quarters that Cutler is expected to play will be the longest yet trial by fire for his trust in Loggains. The latter has been a coordinator previously in his career, but with less time and success in the position that most of Cutler’s previous list of coordinators.

And few of those relationships survived, let alone flourished once Cutler lost faith or belief in their messages, whether under an avalanche of sacks, poor play selection or design, or whatever.

Cutler put up the best season of his eight-year career in 2015 with Loggains as his position coach. Adam Gase was the coordinator, Gase came in with credibility from having worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. The credibility traced to not necessarily what Gase might have taught Manning, but rather because of what Gase undoubtedly LEARNED from Manning.

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Saturday’s test will be far short of the ones the regular season holds, when Loggains’ offense has been scouted and schemed for. But after a stretch of “quizzes” for Cutler-Loggains, this is a “test.”

Buy-in with Loggains?

Loggains has traction with Cutler – for now. Cutler was consistent in his compliments of Loggains last year, but it was Gase ultimately in his ear on game days. Indeed, the entire offense believed in Gase: “When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said at the time, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

The NFL reality is that Loggains, who has stressed an even stronger commitment to running the football (Long and associates love that), has to earn, or re-earn that gut-level trust.

Most of all, from Cutler.

The lurching start to the preseason – the Bears’ 22-0 home loss to Denver, in which the offense with Cutler netted 13 yards in 10 plays, two of them ending in sacks of Cutler – was test No. 1. The Cutler-Loggains relationship appeared to emerge intact.

“We talked,” Cutler said. “We talked a lot about that game. I think the major point for us was, ‘Let’s not panic. Let’s not hit the fire alarm and put guys in a panic.’

“Because it was the first preseason game and we watched the film and a lot of the stuff that went wrong was because of mistakes… . So it was a matter of just kind of cleaning that stuff up and just going back to work. Which I thought we did a really good job of offensively [at New England]. Hopefully we can do that this week, too.”

Tough warm-ups

NFL schedule-makers did Loggains and the Bears no favors. Their first three preseason opponents – Denver, New England, Kansas City – were all top-10 run defenses. Meaning: The Bears are working to establish Loggains’ run-based offense right into the teeth of three of the NFL’s best at stopping that.

[RELATED: Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears]

The Bears want to run. But just consider: What if they can’t run against a monster Chiefs front that includes Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe and which held the Bears to 3.3 yards per carry, tied for their second-lowest of 2015, in their meeting last season?

Which then tasks Loggains with getting the offense to the right solutions, and those traditionally have not been – and should not be – solely found in Cutler’s right arm. The Bears streamlined and simplified Cutler’s decision-making last year, by design, and it was the right strategy, minimizing a Cutler weakness.

But now Loggains is front-and-center in those decisions. And Cutler has never appeared to suffer from an excess of patience through his career, even the new, more mature Cutler.

And not only WHAT Loggains tells Cutler, but also HOW he tells him, will matter. Gase was generally quiet; that worked. Loggains is very expressive, which Cutler said he now appreciates.

“He sets the tone every day,” Cutler said. “There’s never a gray area. He sets the tone, sets the standard, and if you don’t live up to that, meet those expectations, he’s going to be vocal, he’s going to let you know.

“As a player, that’s all you can ask for: A coach telling you how to do it, and when you don’t do it, you expect him to push you and help you achieve those goals.”

Preseason game No. 3 will be the biggest test yet for the synchronicity that is there now but needs to stand up to inevitable failures.