video

Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith discuss the current odds to win the 2014 NFL MVP.
In describing Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, his coaching peers often discuss an unconventional approach. But Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald took it a step further in calling Trestman “kind of the Phil Jackson of the NFL in terms of how he sees the game from a different picture other than just football and Xs and Os.”

That is the impression McDonald took away from a visit with the team back in May, according to The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard, which explained that one of the coach’s goals for the trip to Chicago was to glean a deeper understanding of why certain things take place on the football field.

Enter Trestman.

“I’ve always been intrigued by him,” McDonald said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things. I think he sees the game from a different perspective. He’s really good with dealing with players and communicating his vision.”

McDonald said that during his visit with the Bears, Trestman helped him to gain a better understanding of how to deal with different players, and he also met with defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who served as head coach at Syracuse from 1991-2004.

Like general manager Phil Emery, McDonald was intrigued by Trestman’s coaching journey.

“Everybody can always get better on every level,” McDonald said. “I think coach Trestman has a unique story. I think his view of football and where it fits in people’s lives is unique compared to other coaches I’ve been around. You can’t put a value on it just because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

We’re chronicling the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve looked at Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XX during a 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots.

Make sure to vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977 Site: Soldier Field

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bears' history?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 41,962)

Elusiveness, explosion, speed, and violence, Walter Payton showed it all in this 18-yard run, which is likely the greatest of a storied career that produced hundreds of breathtaking moments.

The play certainly put Hall of Famer Jim Brown on notice, and definitely should be included in the discussion of the single greatest plays in NFL history.

“I don’t know the game, but I can tell you what moment,” said Brown, who was watching Payton on television for the first time. “I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He must have twisted, knocked three or four guys over, spun around, accelerated. I said, ‘Oh my goodness [laughing], what kind of animal is this? What kind of guy is this?’ All those moves, and the strength and tenacity; that was it, I didn’t have to see anymore. I knew this was a great runner.”

Taking a handoff on a sweep right, Payton spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier, cut back left, made three Chiefs miss, in addition to trucking two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke six tackles. When he took the handoff, the Chiefs led 17-0. Surely the momentum from such an eye-popping run helped to spark Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback victory.

Payton rushed for three second-half TDs to lead the rally, and the victory marked the club’s first of six in a row to end the season as the Bears earned their first trip to the postseason since winning the NFL championship in 1963.

Nearly seven years later, Payton would break Brown’s record to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In classic Payton fashion, he downplayed the achievement, declaring Brown still the king of all NFL runners.

“I don’t believe I ever broke Jim Brown’s record,” he’d say later. “I think it’s still standing. I don’t think the record books need to be rewritten. I didn’t do it in the amount of time that Jim Brown did. If you can’t do it in nine years and eight games, then you didn’t break his record. I had more games and I played longer, so I didn’t break it.”

Josh Morgan has charge dismissed

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
9:46
AM ET

Chicago Bears wide receiver Josh Morgan agreed to a deal Tuesday in which a misdemeanor simple assault charge stemming from an April arrest would be dismissed upon completion of community service. 

Morgan, 29, was arrested in April after allegedly punching a nightclub valet at a downtown Washington, D.C., nightclub. A judge told Morgan that if he completes the 32 hours of community service within four months, he will not have to return for his next court date Nov. 12.

Morgan, who caught 20 passes for a career-low 214 yards last season with the Washington Redskins, signed a one-year deal with the Bears on April 21. He led the Redskins with 48 receptions for 510 yards in 2012.

In Chicago, Morgan will face competition from Eric Weems and Chris Williams for roles on special teams and one of the reserve receiver spots if he doesn't beat out rising second-year man Marquess Wilson for the No. 3 position.

Domenik Hixon also was expected to be in the competition at receiver, but he tore his ACL at organized team activities last month.

Information from ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.


(Read full post)


William PerryAP Photo/Amy Sancetta
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Today, we run down the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve chronicled Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and we’ll also break down how Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Chiefs. It was the run Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness.

Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 46, Patriots 10
Date: Jan. 26, 1986 Site: Louisiana Superdome

Call this play in Bears history a bittersweet one.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bears' history?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 41,962)

On one hand, William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX -- otherwise known as “The Plunge” -- certainly gave fans a nice moment of entertainment. But on the other, the team’s choice to call on Perry for the score instead of Payton, the team’s heart and soul, goes down as one of the major regrets about that game still harbored by former coach Mike Ditka.

Keyed on all day by New England’s defense, Payton -- the game’s all-time leading rusher at the time -- finished without a touchdown despite the club having multiple opportunities near the goal line to get him into the end zone for a score on the game’s biggest stage.

“That was probably the most disturbing thing in my career,” Ditka later said in the book “Payton.” “That killed me. If I had one thing to do all over again, I would make sure Payton took the ball into the end zone. I loved him; I had great respect for him. The only thing that ever really hurt me was when he didn’t score in the Super Bowl.”

Perry’s TD came on a call from Ditka, but quarterback Jim McMahon had a reputation for changing plays when he wanted to. Besides, allowing a defensive lineman in Perry to score a TD instead of the game’s best player at the time seemed as if Ditka was taunting New England. After all, Perry’s run made the score 44-3. It’s a shame Perry scored a TD in the Super Bowl and Payton didn’t.

Ditka has explained that the call was an option play in which McMahon could have pitched the ball to Payton, who later said, “I knew I was going to be a decoy today.” On McMahon’s first touchdown, which came after a fake to Perry, the quarterback also could have pitched it to Payton.

“On the touchdown that I scored, it was a play designed for Walter,” McMahon later said. “But the truth is I don’t think anyone recognized it during the game. I know I didn’t.”

 
video
Here’s the second part of our interview with Brandon Marshall as part of ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue, which dropped on July 7 with a story about the Chicago Bears receiver.

Marshall spent time with us at his home in Chicago discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the magazine story or the video clip above. So I decided to pull it together in its entirety:

Michael C. Wright: You’ve called the trade from Miami to Chicago a “career-saving trade,” a “life-saving trade.” Did you really feel your life was in jeopardy?

Brandon Marshall: No, I think a lot of people took that out of context. What I meant by that was when you look at the career side, it’s like, to be honest, I think I played with five or six different quarterbacks. You see how my production dropped and people were looking at me like, "He used to be a top-five receiver. It’s him. He’s dropping all these balls. He’s the issue. He’s the problem." Those people in Miami, they wanted my head for a year or two. But then I come to Chicago and you see me continue to produce at a high level. I had Jay Cutler. I was in a system I was familiar with. So it was career-saving. Now, the life-saving thing we’re talking about, I don’t know if the cameras can see it [Marshall looks around], but look at this beautiful city. You know what I mean? I say that it wasn’t a life-or-death thing. But a lot of us go through life doing things that we don’t love. We’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and we die freaking chasing money or chasing something to pay bills or we’re not happy. But for me, every single day, I walk outside my door and I smell the city air. I look at these tall buildings. I see people wearing Bulls hats, Blackhawks hats, Bears shirts. It’s fulfilling. It’s stimulating. The love and joy that we receive on a daily basis, it sometimes is too much. So that’s what I mean when I say life-saving. It’s like a dream. It’s the perfect situation, not only doing what I love, but doing it in a place where I can say I love, that’s now home for me. I don’t think you could buy that.

[+] EnlargeDavone Bess
AP Photo/David RichardDavone Bess, who was arrested in January, is "one of those guys that's walking with me," says former teammate Brandon Marshall.
You’ve taken on somewhat of a role as a mentor. What are you doing with your former teammate Davone Bess?

Marshall: I wouldn’t say that’s a mentorship, that’s more of, I think in every man’s life they need ... the perfect illustration is you have yourself here, you have a mentor above you. Then you have men you can walk with, and then there’s a mentee. So Davone Bess is one of those guys that’s walking with me, a guy that when I fall, he can pick me up and vice versa. It’s an interesting story because when we were playing together in Miami, we used to sit on the plane and talk about the same stuff. Our situations aren’t unique. Every guy deals with it at this level. We would compare text messages from family and friends asking us for money, or cussing us out because we said no, or threats, legal issues. And what you saw is, you saw a break in me early, and then a couple of years later, you see a break in Davone Bess’ health and stability. So it’s like it was always there, but it presented itself at different times. So good thing that I’ve been through it, someone that he can trust and believes in, and now I can say, "Bro, this is what I did and it worked for me."

You said that 2013 was the first year in your career that you were not selfish. Can you explain what you meant?

Marshall: I’m a believer in Christ. That’s my Lord and savior, and when you read the Bible, one of the biggest things that jumps out to me is his ability to serve others. So I always tell guys, if you want to be Muslim, be Muslim. You know, I have my beliefs. I’m not forcing that on you. But if you say you’re a Christian, then it’s either you’re all-in or you’re all-out. One of the teachings is being a servant, and you can’t be a selfish servant. I don’t think those two relate. It’s a contradiction. Last year I grew spiritually, and that was the first time I was able to step outside myself on this spiritual journey and be able to say, "You know what, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But I’m gonna serve Alshon Jeffery. I’m gonna serve Martellus Bennett." Because I know there’s something bigger. I’m a part of something greater. I can’t wait to see what it is. But I know if I just continue to pour into those young men’s lives, we will be great together.

How confident are you that you can continue on this track? As we’ve discussed before, you’ve got a past. Can you honestly say that none of the things that have haunted your past will creep back into your life?

Marshall: That’s interesting because I never really read my Twitter mentions, because one day it’s gonna go from a ton of mentions and a ton of retweets to nothing when I’m not relevant anymore, when I’m not catching any more touchdowns. I’m preparing for that. I don’t really read too many stories. I will look at stats, but I won’t read stories. I did read your story the other day where you said, "Let’s see if he can keep it up," or something along those lines.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall is confident his problems are behind him.
I didn’t write that. I wrote that you needed to keep it up.

Marshall: I found that interesting. I found that interesting that there is a thought about me reverting back. But I always tell people that’s just part of the journey, especially for a young man given so much freedom, so much fame, so much fortune. That’s part of the journey, to make mistakes. But the problem is, you make your mistakes in the public’s eye. People look at me like, "Is this an act?" I know you believe in me, but some people will say, "Is it an act?" Or "It’s only going to last for so long." But I’m actually growing, every single day. This is the new me. This is who I am. So there isn’t any reverting back. But I do make mistakes. I’m pretty much still in the same exact situation. I just look at life differently and my approach is different. There’s some things out there I still need to work on.

Last thing. Can you finish this sentence for me? I would describe my comeback as...

Marshall: Inspirational.
video
Hopefully you all enjoyed the holiday weekend. With all that out of the way and training camp on the horizon, NFL news is difficult to come by.

Well, we’ve got some. ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue dropped Monday, and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall spent time with us at his home discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the video clip above or the magazine story. So I decided to pull together all of it to post here on our blog.

Here’s Part I of the interview. We'll post more Tuesday:

Michael Wright: This is all about comebacks, and you’ve made quite the comeback in terms of your growth on and off the football field as a player and as a man. Where are you now compared to when you first came into the NFL?

Marshall: When you look at where I’m at today, there’s no comparison. It’s night and day. It’s a 180-degree turn. But I truly believe I went through the things I went through to be able to understand the people that we’re working with now; to empathize. When you go into a community or you go into a place and you can’t relate, people won’t listen. So for me, the field that we’re working in -- trying to bridge that gap in the mental health community -- people understand that I went through it. Just last night, I was texting a young lady who is suicidal right now. That wasn’t a part of my case, but I could understand how one could get there. There’s a lot of people who may look down on someone who may be dealing with something mentally because they don’t understand it. They’ve never been around it. So the comeback for me is significant because I really believe we’re in position to save lives. I really believe that we’re in position to change our world. So I’m excited for this new opportunity and I just want to be responsible with it.

You were just talking about all you went through. You’ve talked about going from a patient to a provider. Can you enlighten us about that a little more?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall put his problems behind him and caught 100 passes, 12 for touchdowns, in the 2013 season.
Marshall: That was a pretty cool experience because we’re still in it, and I think we will always be in it. But I was a patient. I needed help. I needed a treatment facility. I needed a program. I needed doctors. I needed group members, and I got the help that I needed. And now I’m sitting here on the other side just extending a hand saying, "Hey, have faith, have hope, persevere, work hard. You can make it, too." It’s interesting because now whether it’s people in my profession, athletes, general managers, player personnel guys or other executives calling asking us for help, whether it's in their families, in their own household or if it's a situation pertaining to a player. So that's why I say we went from patient to provider because now we have a caseload. We have people that we're trying to help and there are people that are reaching out trying to get our help.

You have a past. You've had quite a few things happen to you in the past and you've done a ton try to distances yourself from that past. But take me back to those times. How were you feeling in your heart, mentally and emotionally, when you were going through some of those things?

Marshall: You know what? I've got to be honest: A lot of people they'll read my rap sheet and be they'll be like, "Ah man, he's been through a lot. He must've been really sick." Well, a lot of it was just me being immature and just going through the growing pains of a teenager to a young man, from a young man to a man. Getting a DUI, that's just something that's just dumb. That's something that is like, I don't understand it. You just have to go through it and learn from it. I could've killed somebody. I could've been killed or hurt somebody really badly. But a lot of times we focus so much on the behavior, of what we see on ESPN, what we see at the bottom of the ticker. But the thing that's most scary is the things that you don't see, the suffering in silence, those times where I had to put a hoodie on to leave my house because I didn't want to connect with anybody. I didn't want anybody to recognize me. Sitting in my theater room day in, day out. It's the darkest room in my house. I can't hear anything, "I’m just gonna sit here. I'm comfortable." But it wasn't like there was something wrong. It was my norm. It felt like that was my reality. I was so deep in it that it didn't feel weird. It didn't feel like it was a problem. People used to look at me, family and friends and like, "Dude, what's going on?" I'm like, "What's going on? I have this amazing house, why do I have to leave? I have this amazing theater room. Why do I have to leave?" But I was so isolated and so hurt that I needed help.

When did you reach that "eureka" moment where you said, "You know what? I need help. I need to get it together?"

Marshall: If it wasn't for football, I wouldn't be sitting here. A lot of us professional athletes are defined by the sport we play. We grow up being put on this pedestal by the world, by our coaches and peers, our family members. We grow up thinking that's what we're here to do. That's our purpose. So for me, I was the same. I grew up being put on that pedestal. I grew up being the best on the field, and I've always been able to control football. That was my sanctuary. That was my place where I could go. That was my safe haven. But it wasn't until I couldn't control what was going on in football is what woke me up. All the relationships and all the drama, all that stuff, that was normal. I grew up in that environment. It was like, "Yo, that's the way of life. But I can control football." But when I wasn't able to do that is when I said, "Man, I need help."
Devin HesterJoe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

We’re running down the three most memorable plays in Chicago Bears franchise history, and today marks the first of the plays nominated. Over the next two days we’ll feature: How Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the run which Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness. And William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Chicago’s drubbing of New England in Super Bowl XX that robbed Payton of the opportunity to score a touchdown on the game’s biggest stage.

Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Colts 29, Bears 17
Date: Feb. 4, 2007 Site: Dolphin Stadium

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bears' history?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 41,962)

If setting an NFL record as a rookie by taking six kick returns to the house for touchdowns didn’t cement Devin Hester’s nickname as the Windy City Flyer, his exploits to start off Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts certainly did.

Seven players previously returned kickoffs for touchdowns, but Hester became the first in the game’s history to take the opening kickoff back for a score. Hester did it with a breathtaking 92-yard return that gave Chicago the start it needed. Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn’t maintain that momentum in what would become a 29-17 loss.

“We knew we were capable of returning one,” Hester said afterward. “Once we got a chance to get our hands on it, we knew we had a great chance to get into the end zone. It was a right return and it was set up the way [former Bears special-teams coordinator] Dave Toub planned it. It was just being patient, and trusting your teammates that they’re going to be there to set up the blocks. That’s what happened.”

Hester fielded Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff near the left sideline, and worked his way back toward the middle of the field. In the process, Hester faked left to make a few Colts defenders miss in the middle of the field, and then turned on the jets down the right hash mark as he headed toward the right sideline. Near the 35-yard line, Vinatieri dove at Hester’s feet. But the return man was too far away. It was off to the races.

Interestingly, near the end of the run Hester could be seen watching himself on the stadium’s video board as he crossed the goal line.

The play took 14 seconds off the clock, and given Indianapolis’ struggles covering kickoffs that season, the Colts never should have kicked to Hester in the first place.

Hester currently is tied with Deion Sanders for the most combined return touchdowns (19), but his return TD in Super Bowl XLI isn’t included because it occurred in the postseason. The Bears decided not to bring back Hester after the 2013 season, and in March he signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

Pre-camp check: Safety

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
9:00
AM ET
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeChris Conte
AP Photo/Scott BoehmSafety Chris Conte, who has missed all of the Bears' 2014 offseason work so far, hopes to return healthy and in time for training camp in late July.
Overview: Inconsistency brought on by injuries along the front seven played a role in shoddy play in 2013 by safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Wright bolted for Tampa Bay in free agency, but Conte remains on the roster; sidelined by an offseason shoulder surgery that could land him on the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp. Either way, the brass deemed it necessary to upgrade the talent at the position.

Did they do it? That’s unclear right now because offseason workouts don’t provide enough evidence about how the new additions might perform in game situations.

In addition to drafting Brock Vereen, the Bears signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and 14-year veteran Adrian Wilson. So between all the new faces combined with players such as Conte and Craig Steltz, the Bears should be able to find a couple of safeties in 2014 capable of getting the job done.

Battle to watch: Every spot on the safety depth chart registers as a battle to watch because right now every position -- including the starting jobs -- is up for grabs. Provided Conte regains his confidence in 2014, he certainly possesses the skill set to finish training camp as one of the starters. But how long will he be on the shelf? Conte was unable to practice throughout organized team activities and minicamps, which puts him somewhat behind in the competition for one of the starting spots.

“We’ll see,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’ll wait until camp rolls around and I’ll get a report, and they’ll let us know who’s available and how much they can do. Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in and get him up to speed, get him the reps. He’s been in the meetings. So he knows what we’re doing. We’re going to start over pretty much in training camp with our installation. So a lot of it will be review, and then we’ll add some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaches’ sessions. He’s gotten the mental work in, in the class room. So it’ll just be getting the physical reps. When he’s ready, he’s ready. We’ll work him in.”

Mundy has taken reps with the starters, as have Vereen and Jennings. The Bears added a wrinkle to the competition at safety in late June with the signing of Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, who missed all of 2013 due to a torn Achilles.

Dark horse: Despite his decorated past and Pro Bowl pedigree, Wilson comes into the derby for one of the safety spots without the benefit of learning the system by participating in the team’s offseason program. Wilson is one of 13 players in NFL history to pick off at least 20 passes in addition to posting 20 sacks. But the truth is the coaching staff really doesn’t know what Wilson, who will be 35 this season, has left in the tank. Wilson is also still trying to work back from undergoing surgery last fall on his Achilles.

If Wilson manages to stick, he could be a valuable asset for the team’s young safeties in teaching them the intricacies of the game.

Who makes the cut: The Bears will have some tough decisions to make here because it appears the current group is talented, but the roster spots are limited. Conte (if he regains health), Mundy, Vereen and Steltz will likely make the roster, and if the Bears decide to go with five safeties, Jennings would likely make the cut over McCray. If Wilson shows he’s back to form during camp, Steltz could become a victim of the numbers game at the position.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Chicago Bears will lean on cornerback Kyle Fuller, their 2014 first-round pick, to contribute during his rookie season.
Overview: From top to bottom cornerback remains one of the team’s strongest positions groups, and that was bolstered by the re-signings of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, in addition to the club acquiring Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech with a first-round draft pick.

All three of those players should see time on the field together, but the Bears still feel they need capable reinforcements.

“You need to have multiple corners,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “A lot of the defenses we have to play, that we’re required to play nowadays in the National Football League, are sub packages with three corners or corner types in the game. Typically, at least half of the snaps you’ll play in the season will be with five defensive backs in the game. And sometimes, you’ll go into game weeks or games and almost every single snap will be in sub personnel. So there are ample opportunities for guys to show what they can do and become a contributor to a productive rotation. A third corner is like a starter. A third corner plays as much if not more than your third linebacker in a 4-3."

That means Fuller and Jennings will spend plenty of time shuffling on and off the field, depending on the situation. During organized team activities and minicamps, Jennings played opposite Tillman in the starting lineup. But when the team went into sub packages on passing downs, Fuller moved out opposite Tillman and Jennings kicked inside to the nickel spot. More than likely, that look isn’t yet set in stone as OTAs and minicamps are the time to experiment. What is clear, though, is the Bears expect Fuller to contribute immediately as a rookie.

Battle to watch: The Bears finished last season with five corners, and it appears right now the top four spots could be locked up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, and Kelvin Hayden with the fifth spot up for grabs. Isaiah Frey would seem to be the most likely candidate to win that fifth spot considering he spent the entire 2013 season as the nickel, with six starts, and played out the year with a broken hand. Frey contributed 47 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. But the Bears wanted turnovers from the nickel spot, and Frey was unable to deliver.

Frey will have to hold off players such as Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, Derricus Purdy, C.J. Wilson and Sherrick McManis, a star on special teams, who shows plenty of potential at corner. Although Hayden appears to be a frontrunner for that fourth corner spot, it’s worth nothing he missed all of last season due to a severe hamstring injury. Hayden's health is a concern.

Dark horse: An undrafted rookie, Louis-Jean declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season at Boston College. Louis-Jean played 10 games as a freshman in 2011 and started two of them, contributing 15 tackles, three pass breakups a forced fumble and an interception. But Louis-Jean lost the entire 2012 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot. He came back last season to post 21 tackles, break up a pass and force a fumble in 11 games, but was suspended for the season opener against Villanova and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl for violating team rules.

Louis-Jean attended Chicago’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and caught the staff’s eye enough for the team to take him to training camp.

If the former four-star recruit pans out, the Bears will have come away with somewhat of a steal. At the same time, Louis-Jean could find difficulty flashing his ability in such a crowded race at a well-stocked position.

Who makes the cut: If the Bears stick with five corners, they’ll likely wind up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, Hayden and Frey at the conclusion of camp. But they’ll probably wind up keeping McManis as a contributor on special teams.
Jared AllenAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJared Allen was acquired to bring additional toughness to the Chicago defense.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At the newly renovated Halas Hall, which now teems with security, coach Marc Trestman often invites visitors to speak to his players about what they should already know.

Mike Singletary told them. Mike Ditka did, too. Otis Wilson and Gale Sayers also spoke to Trestman’s club about what it means to be a Chicago Bear.

“The one thing we’ve done this year, we’ve tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more -- because we’ve got so many new faces -- [is to bring in former players to explain] what being a Bear is all about, you know?” Trestman said. “Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, and with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like. We just want to reinforce that. We’ve got a lot of new guys and understanding what it is to play for the Bears means play[ing] tough defense.”

For a variety reasons during Trestman’s first year with the club, the Bears drifted away from that. During former coach Lovie Smith’s tenure (2004-2012), the Bears ranked in the top three in 10 -- yes, 10 -- statistical categories. First in takeaways (310), second in interceptions (181), first in fumble recoveries (129), three-and-outs forced (485), third-down conversion percentage (34.1) and opponent red zone scoring efficiency (79.3 percent).

It all vanished when the organization ushered Smith out the door and hired Trestman.

In Trestman’s first season, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards. But injuries did cost the defense a total of 55 games last season, and that’s not taking into account losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who retired on the eve of training camp.

No Bears opponent scored less than 20 points last season. But injuries, inexperienced backups and ineffective coaching at some positions played a role, as did other factors such as limited practice repetitions for the defense. According to multiple sources, Chicago’s defensive players over the course of a week of preparation for an opponent typically received approximately half the practice repetitions they had normally taken under Smith’s staff as offensive preparation had become a premium with the new regime.

After last year’s 8-8 season, general manager Phil Emery, Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker huddled to look at possible solutions. By March at the NFL combine, Trestman and Emery -- in discussing the team’s plans for free agency and the draft -- were already starting to use the word “tough” to describe the types of players they wanted to add on defense. In fact, for some in the organization, toughness trumped star power.

“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Trestman said. “We want to accentuate it this year.”

To do that, the Bears brought in reputed tough guys such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to add to the defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff. They fired three defensive coaches and brought in another trio with reputations for being hard-nosed personalities with the ability to teach.

“We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality,” Trestman said. “There’s a way to play football in Chicago, and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be. We’re not there yet. We know that. We’re trying to get there because that’s the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. There’s a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game [in which] you don’t win the line of scrimmage. There’s seldom a game you win where you can’t at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run.”

Trestman pointed out that the whole “toughness” storyline can be overblown, correctly stating that the attribute is a prerequisite for any player or team in the NFL. “So to start writing stories, I think is just over-exaggerating,” Trestman said.

It is. But breaking down the importance of knowing what it takes to play Chicago’s brand of football is not. Of Chicago’s league-high 27 Hall of Famers, nine of them played defense. Since the first Bears players started earning Pro Bowl recognition in 1951, 119 of the club’s 226 selections have been defenders.

The Monsters of the Midway nickname came about due to dominant teams from the ’40s, which featured rough and tumble defenses. In Chicago, its defenses have always maintained a certain identity.

So while it’s certainly refreshing to see Chicago’s offense finally blossom under Trestman, the coach is correct in his attempt to make sure the club doesn’t stray from its roots.

“We need to be tough in our front, in our front seven and throughout our football team, throughout our defense,” Tucker said. “We preach that every day and they seem to want to be like that.”

Whether they will be, we’ll soon know.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

During the team's time of inactivity, we'll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/David DrapkinLance Briggs may be the only Bears linebacker who is guaranteed starting job.
Linebacker overview: The coaching staff says two of the three starting spots are up for grabs with Will linebacker Lance Briggs as the only player assured of a gig with the No. 1 defense in 2014. Despite those openings, it appears that D.J. Williams will win the starting job at middle linebacker with Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin competing for the start at Sam; a battle that is expected to be won by Bostic.

Bears coach Marc Trestman considers Williams the frontrunner to win the starting middle linebacker position. But McClellin and Bostic have also taken reps there.

"I'm just hoping he can be 100 percent. He's had an offseason to work, he's been out there competing hard, and when he's playing well, it's visibly noticeable in terms of what we can do with the middle linebacker position," Trestman said. "But we have competition there. He's certainly the lead dog there. But we do have competition."

Battle to watch: The most compelling of the competitions at this position is certainly the one between Bostic and McClellin at Sam linebacker. Bostic probably projects more as a Will linebacker, but with Briggs already at that spot, the team could benefit greatly by having both players on the field at the same time. McClellin appears to have transitioned well from defensive end to linebacker, but it's unknown whether he possesses that run-and-hit skillset that is coveted by this team at the position. During organized team activities and minicamps, contact wasn't allowed. So it was difficult to get an idea of where McClellin might ultimately fit in the team's plans.

"He's going to be a typical 4-3 linebacker for us," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "I see him as probably more of a blitzer than maybe a four-down rusher. But he will have some edge rush opportunities."

So while it's likely Bostic will earn the start (he's clearly the most athletic linebacker on the roster), McClellin could find himself in some of the team's sub packages as an extra pass-rusher.

Dark horse: Christian Jones receives this designation only because he went undrafted out of Florida State. During minicamps and organized team activities, Jones was impressive and could actually fight for time on the field if given a legitimate opportunity by the staff.

A three-year starter at FSU, Jones started games at all three linebacker positions and defensive end, posting 151 tackles as a sophomore and junior. Jones moved to defensive end as a senior.

"Where we're at is this: We've got a long of players that are committed to this franchise that are really working hard," Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "It's become competitive at every position. Every day they come and it's a fight, a battle. We've got a young Jones player from Florida State, who is doing an incredible job and flashes and shows he has a chance to be a good player. We are building depth here through competition and it's a process. How we end up here, we're developing a picture in our mind, but we're not ready to say because it is still a competitive situation when we get back to training camp. If you want me to prematurely tell you who I am dating and who I am marrying, I don't have the answer. We're still dating."

Who makes the cut: If the Bears decide to keep six, count on Briggs, Bostic, Williams and McClellin to make the roster along with Jones and Khaseem Greene, who has shown improvement since last season. If the Bears go with seven linebackers, it's likely Jordan Senn makes the team because of his ability to contribute heavily on special teams.

Jon Bostic could contend for starting spot

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
10:00
AM ET
video ESPNChicago.com Chicago Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson looks ahead to training camp position battles.
With veteran minicamp coming to a close on Jun. 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team.

Defensive end overview: Similar to the face-lift conducted along the offensive line in 2013, the Chicago Bears go into 2014 with plenty of new parts on the defensive line, most notably new defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen.

[+] EnlargeLamarr Houston
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsLamarr Houston had 16 sacks and never missed a game in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
In Houston, the Bears acquired a physical, hard-nosed run defender. In Allen, the Bears brought aboard a proven contributor with plenty of experience.

“We all know that in order to have a great defense, it starts with the defensive line,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “[Allen] has done a fantastic job so far. He’s a real pro. You add Willie Young, [Stephen] Paea, Lamarr to that mix and the other young guys that we have… it’s a salty group. The focus with the D-line this season has been hand use, pad level, setting a vertical edge in the run game and being able to play your gap and a half of another gap. That’s a violent-shed situation. I like the group so far. It’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of guys in there we think can make this team.”

It’s likely that Allen, Houston and Young have pretty much sewn up their respective spots in the defensive end rotation. So most of the competition at the position will be for backup roles, and it appears veterans such as Austen Lane, who has experience with Tucker, and Trevor Scott, a six-year veteran, could have the inside track on jobs. But don’t count out talented youngsters such as David Bass.

Battle to watch: With the top three spots seemingly locked up, look for players such as Scott, Lane, Bass and Washington to fight it out for that fourth defensive end spot. Lane could have an advantage having worked with Tucker the first three years of his NFL career in Jacksonville. But Scott is an experienced player, too, having started 18 career NFL games in which he’s posted 94 tackles and 16.5 sacks. Scott was a sixth-round selection of the Oakland Raiders in 2008.

Washington figures into the mix in part because of his immense physical skill set. Washington played in two games last season as a rookie, and contributed a tackle.

Bass, meanwhile, played in 12 games with one start last season after injuries along the defensive line took a toll. Bass contributed 23 tackles and a sack and also returned an interception for a touchdown.

Dark horse: The Bears obviously committed the bulk of their money at the position to Allen, Houston and Young. So they’ll stick. If the Bears decide to keep six defensive ends, there will be essentially six players fighting for three roster positions.

Undrafted rookie Jamil Merrell could make some noise in training camp. A starter at Rutgers as a junior, Merell missed time during his senior season with a foot injury that kept him out of action the first three games. He racked up 23 tackles, three tackles for lost yardage and a pair of sacks. During his junior season, Merrell posted 40 tackles.

Tracy Robertson is another dark horse. Robertson signed to Chicago’s practice squad last October, but was promoted to the active roster the next month. The club released Robertson on Nov. 29, but brought him back the following month to the practice squad.

Who makes the cut: Chicago’s roster going into the final game of 2013 featured six defensive ends. So if that’s the number the Bears decide to go with this season, count on the obvious three in Allen, Houston and Young, along with Lane, Scott and 2013 sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington making the roster.

Pre-camp check: Defensive tackle

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
8:00
AM ET
Overview: Season-ending ACL tears to Henry Melton and Nate Collins left the Bears exceedingly thin at defensive tackle last season. Determined to avoid a repeat scenario, the Bears spent two early draft picks to inject some youth and increase depth at the position, LSU’s Ego Ferguson (2nd round) and Arizona State’s Will Sutton (3rd round).

Both rookies, along with re-signed veteran Nate Collins, are expected to fight for spots in the Bears’ defensive tackle rotation behind projected starters Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea, after the club allowed Melton and DT/DE Corey Wootton to depart via free agency.

The Bears were pleased enough with Ratliff, a former Pro Bowl player for the Dallas Cowboys, to offer the tackle a new two-year deal in the offseason. Paea, whom the Bears moved up in the second round of the 2011 draft to grab out of Oregon State, is entering the final year of his original rookie contract. For Paea, it’s now or never. He’s shown promise throughout his four-year NFL career, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never truly dominated over an extended period of time in the regular season.

Battle to watch: Will one of the rookies step up? Ferguson and Sutton are different players. Despite Ferguson’s limited body of work at LSU (12 starts), the Bears believe the 6-foot, 309 pound rookie has the traits to be an effective run-stopper at the NFL level. Sutton was an elite pass-rusher with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles-for-loss in 2012, but his production dropped his senior year with the Sun Devils due to weight gain. Both rookies have upside, but neither is a sure-fire lock to make an impact in 2014.

Dark horse: Many believed Collins was on the verge of a breakout year before the knee injury in Week 5. The affable Collins, who played in nine games for the Bears in 2012, has shown the ability to rush the passer. Collins participated in organized team activities and the veteran minicamp, proving that he is fully recovered from the ACL surgery.

Who makes the cut: It just depends on how many defensive linemen the Bears decide to keep on the 53-man roster. Ratliff and Paea (barring injuries) appear to be locks, along with defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. Ferguson and Sutton are likely in good shape because of their draft status, and Collins is an experienced reserve. On paper, the Bears seem equipped to carry five tackles, but preseason injuries at other positions can always change the composition of the roster in August and September.

SPONSORED HEADLINES