Mullin: Holding off on the Bears' record prediction

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Mullin: Holding off on the Bears' record prediction

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Posted: 1:01 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears' record for 2011 will be.... Umm, let's hold off on that one.

Last year I put together my prediction for an 11-5 Bear season record with the benefit of some analysis off of some minicamps, free agency, the draft. I actually was in the 8-8 thinking and then ratcheted it up after seeing and learning a few things.

With the 2011 schedule coming out this week, the questions begin in earnest about what to expect from the Bears this year.

Im going to wait on that one.

A prime reason behind that 11-5 call last year was the addition of Julius Peppers and the returning to health for Matt Forte, besides the obvious of Jay Cutler having been with his offensive teammates for a full season. The Bears had gotten better and they were playing the schedule of a team coming off a 7-9 season.

But any assessment right now of the 2011 outlook would be nothing more than re-playing 2010, since theres been no draft and no free agency. And the latter may not be here anytime soon, depending on the outcome of the case before Judge Susan Nelson and any anticipated appeal.

Also, the Bears draw division winners Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle in addition to the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers in the stroll through the AFC West. Plus there are the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to deal with from the NFC South.

The point there: The Bears will have to be better than they were in 2010 to do as well as they did. Right now, theyre not. For that matter, nobody is.

If the Bears do manage to lure Cullen Jenkins away from Green Bay and onto their defensive line, I like the future there. Or rather, the present, since Jenkins, Peppers, Anthony Adams and Israel Idonije all are 30-something. Henry Melton at the three-technique projects as an upgrade over the Tommie Harris of now, but thats still in fact an unknown. And if the defensive line takes a step closer to dominant, the entire defense upgrades.

If the draft brings the Bears a projected starter on the offensive line, that unit also becomes a significantly better group, given JMarcus Webb with a year of experience, Chris Williams possibly at right tackle, and Olin Kreutz re-signed to tie it all together.

Notice that the last two paragraphs begin with Ifs? Thats why Ill wait a week or so before taking a run through the schedule. The Bears wouldnt mind a repeat of 2010 (except for that Cutler knee thing at the end) but right now every team is still right where it was last year, so lets see what changes in the next 10 days.

But heres something to consider: Beyond the well-chronicled jinx plaguing Super Bowl runners-up, the losers in NFC Championship games have fared just as badly the following seasons.

Since 2002, only twice has the NFC Championship loser even made the playoffs the following season, and that was the Philadelphia Eagles after their loss to the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 and when they returned to the playoffs in 2003. The Eagles have managed playoff returns several times, largely because of one Donovan McNabb, but the Bears will be fighting a bit of history to get back to within a touchdown of a second straight Super Bowl.

So, if you want to make a prediction for 2011, go ahead. Me, Im waiting until I have some 2011 information.

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 hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Once upon an NFL time a Bears-49ers game held some consequence, sometimes great import. Even last season the San Francisco game was the Bears’ chance to reach .500 in John Fox’s first year (it didn’t happen, with the Bears defense allowing a long Blaine Gabbert TD run and Robbie Gould missing a 36-yard field goal for the win, all in the last 1:42 of a game the Bears had dominated statistically).

Now the game becomes another in a string of ones in which the opponent and even the outcome matter less than some specific personnel issues for a team trying to avoid losing four straight games for the first time under Fox.

Several of those personnel questions warrant watching because of the positions involved:

Matt Barkley, quarterback   

The Barkley Era unofficially began last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans when the former USC quarterback got his first NFL start and nearly became the third Bears quarterback to win a game in an otherwise dismal season. That did happen once, in 2007 when Brian Griese, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton also had W’s as starters.

Well, if not an actual “era,” at least the Barkley window opened, and will be open for the foreseeable 2016 future.

Barkley playing his way into a starting job in 2017 is not a front-burner thought — yet — although Kurt Warner once played his way from stocking supermarket shelves into Hall of Fame consideration.

Going against one of the only two teams with fewer wins than the Bears, Barkley’s chances are ostensibly better than they were facing the Titans, if only for “just being comfortable,” said Fox.

“Our opponent, Colin Kaepernick has been in for X amount of time. And like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. Hopefully. Just getting him more reps. More reps with the 1’s. I think there’s a drastic difference between him coming in as the back-up in Green Bay versus him being the starter last week against Tennessee. So hopefully he improves from his first start to his second start. That’s the plan and that’s what we’re working off.”

Quarterback is always a point of supreme interest and Barkley is playing for a shot somewhere in 2017. And the Bears want to know if some of the positives in the Tennessee game were real.

“With Matt, the biggest challenge was he wasn’t here in OTAs and training camp, so you don’t know him,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “He was out there running scout team, running ‘cards,’ so you know what kind of talent he has, but he never had gotten a two-minute — that was his first two-minute drill with the first group in a game situation.”

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Daniel Braverman, wide receiver

Braverman was a seventh-round draft choice who flashed in training camp but faded in games. He was elevated from the practice squad and is projected into a slot role with Eddie Royal injured again and the future unclear at that No. 3 wideout spot.

“There are not a lot of great slot receivers out there in the game,” Loggains said. “You’ve got to be able to move the chains, and you’ve got to be able to convert third downs and do those things and score in the red area. You have to understand coverages and leverages to be able to do that stuff. Those are the things that Braverman, coming into the NFL, his biggest challenge is.”

Daniel Brown, tight end

The season-ending foot injury to Zach Miller created another vacuum at a position the Bears have struggled to fill long-term: trading away the likes of Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen and even Mike Ditka. Brown caught his first career TD pass in the Tennessee game. With Miller’s injury history and age (32), the Bears have a need at the position.

“We thought obviously he’s a guy that has a skill set probably closet to Zach at this point to plug in and play,” Loggains said. “But he did a nice job, helped up on third down, helped us in the red area. Just his ability to catch the football, he’s played receiver before and he’s more of a pass-catching tight end.”

Kyle Fuller, cornerback

Fuller, who led the Bears with two interceptions last year, has been a starter at a position that is a defensive priority. He is coming back from August knee surgery and into a secondary that is takeaway challenged. His goals are basic at this point.

“Just getting back on the field and just performing,” Fuller said.