'Kick it, Mitch' -- HOF for Fred

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'Kick it, Mitch' -- HOF for Fred

The American Football Kicking Hall of Fame, which includes the likes of Kevin Butler, Lou Groza, Jan Stenerud and Jim Thorpe, has added friend and former colleague Fred Mitchell with its class of 2013.

Fred was the nations top collegiate kicker during his career at Wittenberg University, which welcomed him into its Hall of Fame in 1995. Fred set the NCAA college division kick-scoring mark and the Fred Mitchell Award was established to honor the nations top collegiate placekicker from among its 750 FCS, Division II, III, NAIA and NJCAA football programs.

We met in 1992 when Fred was covering the Bears for the Tribune and yes, he did in fact keep an old square-toe kicking shoe (hes old school) in the trunk of his car. (And yes, Fred has issues hes a kicker, after all.)

He said one of the best parts of this honor, which was presented at the Legends Club just across the street from Augusta National, was being able to share the news with his 82-year-old high school coach and thank him for getting Freds kicking career started.

It was great to see Fred and wife Kim on Thursday night at the 25th Comcast March of Dimes Awards. Im really, really pleased for Fred, one of the very good guys and a pros pro as well.

Oh, and the Kick it, Mitch in the headline? Fred told me that was the standard directive from his Wittenberg coach. And if this award and others are any indication, he did that very, very well.

Return of No. 1 pick Kevin White a focal point as Bears begin OTA's

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Return of No. 1 pick Kevin White a focal point as Bears begin OTA's

It was sometime around a year ago that Kevin White’s season started coming off the rails as the rookie wide receiver began experiencing pain in his left leg that ultimately turned out to be a season-ending stress fracture. This week White and the Bears will reset with the startup of organized team activities (OTA’s) that run a handful of days per week, culminating in a mid-June mandatory minicamp before the Bears break until the July 27 opening of training camp in Bourbonnais.

Fewer storylines around the Bears to this point carry the individual significance as that of White, the team’s No. 1 draft choice last year with the intent of his becoming a linchpin of the offense for quite a few years.

Insiders said that White, in the closed portions of practice late last season prior to his being placed on IR, displayed jaw-dropping speed and burst, to the point of Jay Cutler joking that he couldn’t overthrow the kid. The decision to leave White shut down for the balance of the season had more to do with the Bears’ 5-8 record than health concerns; had the Bears beaten San Francisco and Washington and were within reach of the playoffs, White likely is put on the roster with an eye toward the postseason.

But none of that really matters in hindsight. What does matter is what White now does in an offense headed by a new coordinator (Dowell Loggains) and with presumed fellow receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, each of whom had their own 2015 lost playing time due to health issues.

“It’s hard,” Loggains said during rookie minicamp earlier this month of any early impressions of White. “But I can tell you about his character, and he’s everything that we expected.

“He’s a hard worker. His attitude is contagious because he is very positive; he doesn’t have bad days. I think that between him and Eddie and some of the other receivers, they’re bringing out the best of each other, and competition does that. We feel good about the receiver room. It’s a deep room and they’re making each other better.”

Rotoworld: Where the Bears QB situation ranks in the NFL

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Rotoworld: Where the Bears QB situation ranks in the NFL

Jay Cutler enters his eighth season with the Bears with expectations of bouncing back from the team's dismal 6-10 record a year ago.

And while Alshon Jeffery returns as Cutler's top target, general manager Ryan Pace continued to clean house by releasing running back Matt Forte and trading tight end Martellus Bennett to the Patriots.

The Bears will get wide receiver Kevin White back after he missed his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his left leg. The Bears also spent three draft picks on offensive players, including guard Cody Whitehair in the second round.

Cutler will use those weapons with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains after Adam Gase took the head coaching job in Miami.

So where do Cutler and the Bears' quarterback situation stand in the NFL? Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty ranked all 32 teams based on current production, as well as age and injury history, and though the Bears improved it wasn't by much.

21. Bears, Jay Cutler
Last Year’s Ranking: 22

Jay Cutler is coming off the cleanest season of his career, but the man responsible, OC Adam Gase, has packed up and left for South Beach. Security blankets Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are gone, as well, stripping Cutler of much of the armor that fortified him against his disastrous 2014. Now 33, Cutler hasn’t appeared in all 16 games since 2009. On the bright side, 2015 first-rounder Kevin White is healthy after missing his entire rookie campaign, and Cutler’s coaching buddy Dowell Loggains is replacing Gase. Cutler showed last season that he still has good football left in the tank, but with his guaranteed money out after 2016, he is very much a year-to-year proposition for a team in rebuilding mode.

The Seahawks and Russell Wilson ranked first on the list, followed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Panthers, the Colts and the Steelers.

Surprisingly, the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford ranked 11th on the list following a 7-9 season. Just as surprising, Teddy Bridgewater and the NFC champion Vikings ranked 24th, behind Cutler and the Bears. Bridgewater didn't explode in his second pro season but still managed to throw for 3,200 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record.

You can check out the rest of the list from Daugherty here.

Bears sounding increasingly like Lamarr Houston, Willie Young in ’16 plans

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Bears sounding increasingly like Lamarr Houston, Willie Young in ’16 plans

While the Bears cut ties with veterans Matt Forte, Antrel Rolle and Matt Slauson sooner rather than later this offseason, they have done nothing to hint that the immediate futures of outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young project to be other than Chicago.

Just the opposite, in fact. Despite chatter that the Bears were shopping various veterans in the days around the draft, reports have the Bears not only open to extending Young’s contract, but also doing nothing with Houston and his nearly $6 million price tag for 2016. And John Fox is sounding like anything but a head coach who’s done with either edge threat.

“In year two, a lot of times there’s a big jump from freshman to sophomore, year one to year two, just in the scheme,” Fox said during the Bears’ rookie minicamp. “Two of our outside linebackers [Houston, Young] a year ago were coming off major injuries and really didn’t have an off-season. And they were making the transition from 4-3 ends earlier in their career to acclimating to a 3-4 outside linebacker.

“They’re going to have a full off-season this time around. So they were, and really everybody out there was, kind of new at outside linebacker because we got two new guys in free agency that we brought in, so there will be some growing pains.”

As the Bears headed into this offseason, with its Combine, draft and sundry transactions, the futures of Houston and Young were subjects of speculation. Team-leading sack totals (eight for Houston, 6.5 for Young) notwithstanding, the combination of salaries and age (Young turning 31 in September) put both at risk on a team looking to get younger and faster on defense.

Now, even with the expenditure of draft capital on Leonard Floyd, a decidedly Young-like outside pass rusher, the Bears do not appear inclined to let go of proven pass rushers.