View from the Moon: On the clock....

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View from the Moon: On the clock....

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 10:46 a.m. Updated: 8:19 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

NFC North stars

The pick of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 raised a few eyebrows but this is another player that makes the Bears schedule ever so slightly more difficult.

Ponder is an upgrade over Joe Webb, Tavaris Jackson and Brett Favre 2010, even as a rookie. Period. Thisll be interesting now, because dont rule out Donovan McNabb being a pickup before training camp. If that happens, the Vikings are dangerously close to a legitimate divisional contender.

And then you add Nick Fairley paired with Ndamokung Suh as the defensive tackles in Detroit? Very, very scary. Throw in Kyle Vanden Bosch at one end and the Lions will be a serious problem in week five when Detroit comes to Chicago.
Falling stars

How squirrely is draft analysis? Blaine Gabbert at one time was the consensus No. 1 overall pick. So was Auburn DT Nick Fairley. So was Clemson D-end DaQuan Bowers. And Fairley and Bowers were still waiting for phone calls after J.J. Watt went from Wisconsin to Houston at No. 11.

Oooops

Its all fluid right now but the Bears tentatively will open training camp on July 22 and hold their first practice in Bourbonnais Olivet Nazarene University on July 23, All dependent on this labor thing

Scheduling conflicts

It happens every year to some degree but the Bears 2011 schedule arguably got a bit more difficult Thursday night.

Whether Cam Newton is starting by game four when the Bears face the Carolina Panthers is an unknown. If he isnt, its because Jimmy Clausen is playing better than the No. 1 overall pick. If Newton is starting, it means he is further along the NFL learning curve than a lot of other rookies, not just quarterbacks.

A scary element came in when Atlanta gave up a hefty parcel of picks to move up from 27th to Clevelands spot at No. 6. The Falcons pick: wide receiver Julio Jones, the second wideout taken in the top six picks.

That means that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing offense, already a problem for the Bears, adds a potentially lethal matchup problem for a secondary that struggled with the Falcons in 2008 and 2009.

Not that it will have influenced the thinking down at No. 29, but the Denver Broncos selection pass-rush terror Von Miller at No. 2 means that the pressure on Bears tackles just went up another level. This is a potential Clay Matthews type that will be a major concern for JMarcus Webb and whomever is the other tackle probably not Chris Williams.

Carolina on everyones mind

Coach Ron Rivera, GM Marty Hurney and the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Now what happens?

The first thing is that Jimmy Clausen is likely to remain the starting quarterback. Not for long perhaps, but Clausen out of Notre Dame was a second-round pick last year and is not the stiff that his stats were with an abysmal team. What he gives Carolina and Newton is a little time, because Newton is not NFL-ready right now and if Newton is smart, which he clearly is, hell learn.

And for Clausen, the situation is anything but the end of a career. When the San Diego invested a high No. 1 pick in Philip Rivers, the quarterback already with the Chargers was Drew Brees.

Enough said.

Cullin it out

Barring a court ruling from St. Louis, teams are due to get a clarified set of rules on Friday regarding player transactions. That means free agency and if history is any indication, the Bears will strike quickly to get done what they want to do.

The first free-agency priority is expected to be Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, a fit at either end or tackle but projected to be the replacement for Tommie Harris at the three-technique.

Why this looms as important on an April Thursday night is that the Bears do not have to rely exclusively on the draft for defensive line help, whether Jenkins, Seattles Brandon Mebane or whomever. The likelihood of the Bears going offense at No. 29 just went up a little more.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

Desert foxes?

Len Pasquarelli at The Sports Xchange reports sentiment is floating around that the Arizona Cardinals have an understanding with quarterback Marc Bulger, currently with Baltimore but due to be a free agent whenever the market opens.

If this is the case, or if the Cardinals believe they can get something done with a Bulger, Donovan McNabb or whomever, it projects to take them out of the hunt for a Blaine Gabbert and points them strongly in a direction of cornerback Patrick Peterson from LSU. Arizona will go for the best player available, which is likely to be one of either Peterson or Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

But ESPNs Todd McShay laid out myriad scenarios circulating through NFL cities, and a buzz was that the Broncos were leaning toward Miller instead of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Trades are always in the talking stages, although how many if any ultimately take place in a year when no current NFL players can be included in deals yet, remains to be seen.

As the hours before the draft tick away, specific team situations come more sharply into focus, with the implications those have on draft directions...

Buffalo wings it?

The Buffalo Bills at No. 3 have multiple needs (thats usually why you in fact are drafting third-overall), which gives them the option of taking the true best player available. Because if youre coming off a 4-12 year and havent had a winning season since 2004, you almost by definition dont currently have a best player so you might as well get one when you have the chance.

The Bills can throw the draft into at least brief chaos by taking Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. But while Ryan Fitzpatrick is not in imminent danger of Pro Bowl inclusion, Fitzpatrick also finished last season with a passer rating of 81.8 with 25 TD passes and 16 interceptions on a really bad team...

Gabbert watch

Blaine Gabbert becomes a very intriguing figure as the top 15 picks unfold. If Buffalo goes for one of the elite defensive players left by Carolina and Denver (DT Marcell Dareus, LB Von Miller, CB Patrick Peterson) as expected, Gabbert projects to fall through Cincinnati at No. 4, and then personnel chief Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals have a decision on whether Gabbert is indeed the franchise quarterback that they lost when Kurt Warner was finished.

And if Arizona passes (figuratively) because of Peterson in particular still being available, then Gabbert is still waiting. The Cleveland Browns arent taking him, with Colt McCoy in place. The 49ers may not be satisfied with Alex Smith under center but Jim Harbaugh was himself a quarterback and the chance to add an elite cornerback like Prince Amukamara from Nebraska may be too good to pass up.

Gabbert is still waiting.

Tennessee is a virtual lock to bring in DT Nick Fairley to play for Tracy Rocker, his D-line coach at Auburn. Dallas wont take a QB at No. 9 (Tony Romos number, coincidentally).

Now comes Mike Shanahan and Washington, which desperately wants a franchise quarterback.

Gabbert? Probably. But this is quite a tumble for a player, a quarterback, who a month ago was nearly the consensus No. 1-overall pick of the draft.

QB concerns up North

The Minnesota Vikings are determined to address a train-wreck situation at quarterback, now that coach Leslie Frazier has determined that Joe Webb is not the long-term solution. Donovan McNabb may be an answer but the labor impasse has that in limbo, meaning that right now he cant be brought in at the time of the offseason when you absolutely want your quarterback working in his new system.

That uncertainty, plus the reality that McNabb is a bridge player at this point in his distinguished career, make selecting anything but a quarterback a major surprise...

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.

A history of the Bears who served during World War II

A history of the Bears who served during World War II

Six eventual members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the franchise's all-time leader in touchdown receptions.  

Those are among some 45 Bears from the past who served this country during wartime, one of whom made the ultimate sacrifice as we, as a nation, take some time to remember those whose lives were taken protecting our freedom.

Former LSU quarterback Young Bussey played just one year for the Bears, but was part of the 1941 Championship team, contributing two interceptions while playing in 10 of the 13 games. But teammate George McAfee was attributed as saying he was "difficult to coach," and perhaps that's why he left the NFL for the Navy in 1942 after playing for the Bears in a 34-24 win over the Chicago Cardinals on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Bussey earned his way to Lieutenant, but while serving in the Phillipines during the Japanese occupation, was killed in the line of duty in 1945. He was 27.

As we should also remember every November on Veteran's Day to the many men and women who've served, the Bears had several great players, not to mention George Halas, commit to duty, as the organization captured its sixth and seventh world championships in 1943, and then when they got everyone back in 1946.

Halas was a Navy ensign at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1918 during World War I, then served in the Pacific Ocean for 20 months during WWII as Lieutenant Commander, released from his duties as a captain in 1946, receiving a Bronze Star, and received the highest recognition the Navy can give a civilian, the Distinguished Citizens Award.

Quarterback Sid Luckman began serving after the 1943 season, volunteering stateside as a U.S. Merchant Marine ensign. During the 1944 and 1945 seasons, the Hall of Famer would be gone during the week but granted permission to play in games on weekends. But Luckman was on his way from Britain to France when the Allied Invasion of Normandy took place on June 6, 1944.

Two key members of the franchise's war-interrupted glory days were Hall of Fame linemen. Tackle Joe Stydahar served in the Navy in 1943 and 1944. Guard Danny Fortmann served in the Pacific for the Navy the last two years of WWII. And the aforementioned Turner played in just two games for the Bears in 1945, serving stateside as an Air Force physical training instructor.

The one Bears Hall of Famer who truly lost the prime of his career to serve was George McAfee. After two stellar seasons in 1940 and 1941, he missed what would've been his next three seasons and most of a fourth while in the Navy.

Ken Kavanaugh still holds the franchise record with 50 touchdown receptions. He ran 30 bombardment missions over Europe as an Air Force pilot and captain from 1942 through 1944.

Those are the most prominent of the Bears who served but there are more than three dozen others who did as well, surviving their time, and returning home in helping protect our nation.  Halas' son-in-law Ed McCaskey, longtime Bears executive and the late husband of Virginia, won a Bronze Star, serving in the Army during World War II. And the branches of the military tree reach out to your more modern-day Bears. Head coach John Fox's dad was a Navy SEAL, and more recent players like Charles Tillman, Tommie Harris, and Jason McKie all come from military families.

Then there's the building the Bears have called home since 1971. Whatever criticisms one may have of the organization, the decision by them and the Chicago Park District not to place a sponsor's name on Soldier Field for a big payday must be respected and appreciated. "Doughboy" was the informal name given members of the Army or Marines during the first two world wars, and there's a Doughboy statue at Gate O. There's also a Medal of Honor Tribute on the south concourse, and after the renovation, a Memorial Water Wall on the north side, recognizing all who have lost their lives on duty for our country.

We're all connected, somehow, to brave family or friends who've taken it upon themselves to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, if called upon. On this last Monday of May, amidst the family time, the cookouts, and probably even some sports talk or sports watching that comes with it, it's also a time to remember part of the reason we're still here.

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,.