Chicago Bears

Take it from the Bears D: Balance works

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Take it from the Bears D: Balance works

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011
Posted: 10:40 a.m. Updated: 6:44 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Just in case Mike Martz needs any more convincing to get some semblance of balance in the offense, his counterpart on the Bears defense unintentionally (presumably) lent his voice to declarations made by coach Lovie Smith and others.

Smith said earlier this week that the skewed playcalling of the New Orleans game, with 52 pass plays and 11 run calls, would be cleaned up.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who had Martz as his offensive coordinator in Detroit and saw quarterback Jon Kitna sacked 114 times in two seasons, was describing the myriad attributes of Aaron Rodgers has that makes him such a massive challenge.

But Marinelli tellingly added that Rodgers has an advantage of a scheme, something that Jay Cutler has not had in games tilted crazily toward passing.

And you know the other thing that helps Rodgers, I think, is the run attempts, Marinelli said. They go out and they run, and you have to prepare in every personnel group to stop the run. They do a very good job in it, and the O-line is very physical, so I think the balance really helps them.

Fort Knox?

The offense got a little help Thursday in the form of wideout Roy Williams returning to full practice participation after being limited last week and Wednesday because of a groin injury suffered in the Atlanta game.

Williams is not back as the starter yet and Johnny Knox leads all receivers right now with five catches for 105 yards, behind Matt Fortes team-high 15.

Knoxs average of 21 yards per catch is particularly notable not only because of its size (ninth overall in the NFL after two weeks) but also because it has been accomplished with not simply one huge gain, but with catches of 15, 25 and 30 yards.

With Earl Bennett down for an undetermined time because of a chest injury suffered in the New Orleans game, Williams return becomes even more critical.

Big receiver, good blocker, good football player, and we need all of them this week against a great Packers team coming in here, said coach Lovie Smith. It seems like hes ready to go.

Williams has 27 career catches in nine games against the Packers, three for touchdowns.

Running back Marion Barber remains on the limited list with a calf injury that occurred nearly a month ago, in the Tennessee preseason game. On the plus side, it is the first time since the injury that Barber practiced at all on consecutive days.

Guard Lance Louis also was limited from the ankle sprain he suffered in the Atlanta game.

Bennett, tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and safety Major Wright (head) all were held out of practice and are not expected to play vs. Green Bay. Thats a little more painful for Carimi, who played at Wisconsin and was a Packer fan.

I was pretty excited to play the Packers this week, just because, growing up in Wisconsin, and being a Wisconsin guy, Carimi said. Looks like I dont get a shot at them this week. But we get to play them again, so Im looking forward to that.

Vintage guys

So how exactly would this work?

Coordinator Rod Marinelli is ordering the wine for his defensive table. He walks into the beverage emporium and says, I know theyre really hard to find but Id like something in a 54 Chateau Brian, maybe a 55 Haut Briggs and, if you have one, why not? Ill take a 90 Julius.

Aaah, I see, the sommelier says, rubbing his hands together. You want vintage guys.

If youre stocking your defensive cellar, you want some young wines. And you definitely want the vintage stuff. Like a Brian. Urlacher. Like a Briggs. Lance. Like a Julius. Peppers. Because the better wines, and NFL players, do indeed get better with age.

Urlacher is like a vintage. Briggs said with a laugh Thursday. Vintage, you want that old, when you go in and you say, Its a special day or some kind of special conference meeting, give me your vintage, give me your best wine.

You dont want a 2010 or a 2011. You want something that goes way back. You know? (laughs). Because it gets better with age.

There are some vintage guys. There are definitely some vintage guys. And most of the vintage guys, you know, like a Charles Woodson. Like Brian Urlacher. Like a Ray Lewis. These are vintage guys. Like a Julius Peppers.

Urlacher is probably more used to stomping quarterbacks than grapes but theres a reason why he, Briggs, Lewis, Peppers, Woodson and such have gotten better with age or simply not fallen off.

I dont know, I think Ive gotten smarter, Urlacher said. The longer Ive played, the more knowledge I have for the game. Theres some things athletically I cant do anymore that I could do when I was younger.

I dont know if Charles is the same way, if its the same for a DB as it is for a linebacker. I feel like my mental makes up for what Ive lost athletically, if Ive lost anything at all. Definitely not as fast as I used to be.

Dunned

Antonio Garay as a Bears defensive tackle in 2006-2007 didnt make a huge impression. Hes made one now, as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

According to ESPNs Adam Shefter, Garay has been tagged with a 15,000 fine for hitting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady below the left knee, an infraction highlighted three years ago when Bradys season was ended by a low hit. That gave rise to the so-called Tom Brady Rule about hitting QBs low.

Angelo revisited

Credit Zach Zaidman, Bears maven for WSCR-AM and WBBM-AM and FM, with a fun nugget, which also sparked some other observations.

Zach tweeted on @zachzaidman that Rex Grossman passed for 551 yards in the first two games of the 2006 season. Hes tossed for 596 in his first two starts of 2011 for the Washington Redskins.

Which brings up the funnier point Zach made: The Bears have anguished over the quarterback position for so long but GM Jerry Angelo has stabilized that elusive position in not one, not two, but three cities now: Chicago (Jay Cutler), Washington (Grossman) and Denver (Kyle Orton). Well, maybe not stabilized in Denver but you get the point.

Angelo draws a fair amount of fire for talent issues because of draft choices. But think about it: He stabilized right tackle, tight end and running back with No. 1 picks; they just happened to be the right tackle for the Dallas Cowboys (Marc Colombo, now Miami), tight end for the Carolina Panthers (Greg Olsen) and the tailback for the Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson).

Two starting quarterbacks (Grossman, Orton, No. 1s traded for Cutler), a couple of starting tackles (Colombo, Carimi), tight end (Olsen), a guard (Chris Williams).

Im not sure what all this means, but it was fun to look at.

Mac and Spiegsing

The weekly check-in with WSCR-AM 670s The McNeil and Spiegel Show on Thursday started right where youd expect it to: Mike Martz.

I posited that the biggest question on offense coming into this season wasnt the wide receivers or the offensive line or Greg Olsen or Matt Fortes contract. It was whether the Bears offensive coordinator would ultimately un-learn the lessons of a 7-1 stretch last season and return to his base course of passing until there is a problem and then passing some more.

One shortcoming often pointed out in military leaders is that they are always preparing to fight the last war. I will never use war references to describe football, but the parallel here is that too often the discussion of an upcoming game focuses almost entirely on the game just played, not the one due in a few days.

But clues to the future do often lie in the past, and that proved to apply to Mike Martz, who reverted to the extreme version of his preference for the pass almost to the exclusion of the run. Martz admitted to going to his two-minute offense too soon, which casts a bit of a cloud over his judgment under pressure.

Mac and Spiegs agreed, with some talking about what options, if any, the Bears really have at this point for help on the line and at wide receiver. One possibility is moving Levi Horn up from the practice squad, and that could happen, although I didnt get that impression Wednesday talking to Horn.

The other is for the swing tackle to effectively be left guard Chris Williams, who has played both tackle spots and could fill in for Frank Omiyale at right or JMarcus Webb at left, for at game at least. Then Edwin Williams moves in at guard and the Bears hope they dont lose any more blockers.

The depth chart is getting thin at the top at wide receiver and the guys threw out a couple of names (GM Jerry Angelo did ask for solutions after all). I voted no on Randy Moss and thought that what you gain from a newcomer dropping into the Martz offense was a bad idea vs. relying on more from Sam Hurd and Dane Sanzenbacher. Plus, for the Bears not to make a move hints that Roy Williams is not going to be gone for much longer, even if Earl Bennett is because of his chest injury.

On to the Packers

But all of that fades in significance to the bigger problem, which is Green Bay.

Danny has nightmares of Clay Matthews draped all over Jay Cutler, and I agree: If that happens, and the game plan does not call for Omiyale and Webb to pound a Matthews with their 60-pound weight advantage, this will be another ugly game.

New OrleansDrew Brees and CarolinaCam Newton passed all over the Packers. Both lost.

And theres really the issue of Aaron Rodgers hanging over it all.

The Bears have played Rodgers arguably as well as any team in the NFL. At least they have generally kept games close and low-scoring against someone who can force a scorekeeper to turn to an abacus.

The trouble with the Bears and Rodgers is that he wins. And right now, against the Cover-2 scheme of Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, Rodgers is a better quarterback than Brett Favre, The Later Years.

Rodgers is patient, where Favre was not in his closing Green Bay seasons. Against a defense that delights when quarterbacks become impatient, Favre was 2-6 as a Packer, and one of those was a throwaway to the Packers at the end of the 2006 season; Rodgers is 5-2, one of the losses was the penalty-fest in game one last season, and he wins games that matter.

Ill likely still go with a Bears win for the weekend (the Packers arent going to go 16-0). But as was the case in New Orleans, if this gets into a situation where the Bears are in a shootout...

So, how bout this Carolina game...

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.

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

When the Bears signed Mark Sanchez March 24, some fans panicked that it meant Ryan Pace would avoid selecting a quarterback for a third straight draft. And when Pace boldly (or, stupidly, to some) traded up a spot to second overall to secure Mitch Trubisky for the future, those critics emerged, too. 

Sanchez signed as Mike Glennon's backup, and according to Pace Wednesday, that's still what he is. For the former fifth overall pick of the Jets, starting would be great. But he's only done that ten times over the past four years after starting all but two games in his first four seasons under the media microscope in New York.

"I thought this team was on an upper trend and it'd be great to help somebody like Mike," Sanchez said Thursday in his first interview with Chicago reporters. "I know they went through a serious injury bug last year and a lot of guys would be getting healthy."

The man is only 30, and things were never better professionally than in his fresh-faced, first two NFL seasons, helping the Jets win two playoff road games in both 2009 and 2010 (including one at New England) before getting knocked out in AFC Championship games on the road. Now, he's not considered a starter, unless it's an emergency.

"It has been a different role, and adjusting your perspective is not always easy, but that's the mental side of this game and that's why I love playing it, no matter what," Sanchez said. "I wanna be competing my butt off in practice, and then pushing the starter as much as I can."

With Tony Romo hurt yet again in Dallas last year, Sanchez was picked up as insurance by the Cowboys after the Broncos decided to go with two other young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, following Peyton Manning's retirement. But fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott's performance kept him on the field and Sanchez in a mentor role. Just as he will be with Glennon and Trubisky.

"Whatever it takes to win," Sanchez said. "And if that means getting him ready to play, and if that's what the role is, which is what it looks like here, then I'll push Mike, get ready to play myself and make sure he's ready to go in. It's been exciting working with him, because he can really play. I think he's a special player. He's decisive, he's got great feet for a big guy, and he can make all the throws so I'm excited to see how well he does."

Sanchez was Prescott in 2009, being chosen as a rookie over veteran options on a contending team.

"I had Kellen Clemens, Kevin O'Connell and Mark Brunell," Sanchez said of his NFL baptism under fire. "And all three of them, my first couple years, were amazing guys. Whether it was body language, footwork, where to live, where to eat, anything, you name it. We got so close. That kind of stuff transcends football when you get close off the field like we did those first couple of years, things take off. That kind of stuff I learned right away. We're still building that here."

There's no telling the degree of influence Sanchez may have had on Prescott's success. He arrived in Dallas late (after opening last preseason with a long touchdown pass to Demaryious Thomas at Soldier Field), too. But he hopes the NFL life lessons he'd been through, from winning, to butt-fumbling, to being cut, will help Glennon and Trubisky as he hope it did with Dak.

"That was a heckuva run," he said. "When you look at these teams, especially heading into year nine, you know from the first practice what you have, what you're searching for, what guys lead, what guys follow. You can feel it right away.

"It's a young team, but the emphasis is for the veterans to help push guys. Speaking from a number two role, I have to push Mike with everything I see. I had the conversation with Dak last year, 'Hey, I'll tell you everything I know, I'll push you as hard as a I can. But if at any point, you need me to turn it off, I'll do that. I'll shut up and won't say a word.' That's the same relationship I have with Mike and I'm pushing him hard, helping him compete, and I think he's gonna do really well.

"The best compliment you can give a rookie is not have to tell him to shut up," the USC product said of the seniority pecking order. "Just keep your head down and work, and that's really been his mentality. That's huge. And that's not easy, especially coming from where (Trubisky's) come from. The status you build as a college player... then a team trades up to get you, all those things, you start to believe all that.

"I remember getting ready to fly to divisional games, championship games, and two hours before the plane takes off I'm going to like, three different places. Popeyes Chicken, Quiznos, and I'm thinking, 'Geez, this is crazy.' But there's Brunell and Kellen Clemens saying, 'Just keep your mouth shut.  Do it or it'll be worse.' But (Trubisky's) done a great job. He's worked hard, doesn't say much and doesn't need to. Just keep working, keep learning, playing hard."

And despite his own desire to play, he won't fan the flames for change when Glennon has a bad practice, series or game. All four quarterbacks (including Connor Shaw) are ready to accept and follow the gameplan that's in place for the most scrutinized position in sports.

"There's no chance that happens here," Sanchez said of a divided room. "It's been defined clearly, and that's what you need. It's already been addressed by Ryan Pace, by Coach (John Fox), and you can't say it enough. You guys (the media) have a job to do, and I totally understand how papers sell, and some don't. Certain quotes, certain headlines, I've been around a bit, so I know. But we're not gonna have that issue because Mike's gonna play his butt off. If anything happens, I'll be ready. Mitch is gonna be ready. We have a great room so, I like where we're at and I like where we're headed."

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

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USA TODAY

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said.