Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

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Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted: 12:30 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The NFL offseason may be in turmoil and the pre- and regular seasons may still be in for some heavy weather, but the NFLs hidden season is in full cycle as it always is this time of year.

Call it the hidden season because its the part of the NFL year that few normally see and even fewer really appreciate. Its sometimes convenient to dismiss players as only working 16 Sundays (plus the odd Monday or Thursday) a year but this is the time of year when players sometimes determine whether theyll actually have jobs on those 16 game days.

Gregg Rosenthal at ProFootballTalk.com mentions Matt Forte and Greg Olsen getting their work in at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami along with a number of other NFLers. Olsen checks in with Twitter reports as well (@gregolsen82).

The lockout is contributing to a long-standing offseason tradition among NFL players, and not just Bears players. And it wasnt always just offseason.

The current strength and conditioning staff and facilities are substantially improved at the Halas Hall that Michael McCaskey and the organization designed and opened in 1997. But a number of players, more now with Halas closed to them pending the April 6 hearing on an injunction to end the lockout, are doing their work at a number of facilities around the area and around the country.

Friends working out at Poliquin Performance Center in Northfield share machines with Robbie Gould (Man, Robbie Gould is strong! was one observation this morning), Roberto Garza (People have no idea how huge and strong these guys really are was another report) and others are spending workout time at EFT Sports Performance and TCBOOST in Northbrook and other facilities specializing in high-intensity trainings.

Theres a funny historical aside to all this, however.

Players have always used these facilities for offseason and sometimes in-season extra work. Its less the case now but players at one time were so unhappy with some of the strength and fitness directives coming from a (now-gone) strength coach that they covertly went to private trainers and facilities while at the same time complying with what the team was requiring. And they were adamant: Keep it a secret.

Thats changed in recent years with Rusty Jones, the director of physical development, athletic trainer Tim Bream and some very sophisticated technologies for rehab as well as basic programs.

And now they at least dont have to keep it a secret.

BASEBALL ALERT!

Michael Jordan once briefly left a promising basketball career for a fling at baseball. Now Matt Forte?

Forte tweeted this morning (@MattForte22), think Im gonna play pro baseball. Come to the Sox game on April 9 to catch my debut.

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.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.