BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The chances of Charles Tillman returning to Chicago for a 12th season seemed remote at the onset of free agency in March.

Tillman, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his illustrious career, appeared destined to reunite with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. But after making a free agent visit to the Buccaneers, Tillman went home without a deal, and ultimately re-signed with the Chicago Bears for one year at $3.25 million. Tillman earned just over $8 million in 2013.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman wasn't expecting to spend a 12th season in Chicago, but he's back with the Bears as training camp gets set to open.
On the eve of his 12th training camp with the Bears, Tillman admitted to still being somewhat surprised he remains with the Bears when reached during a promotional appearance Wednesday morning.

“At the end of the day this is a business,” Tillman said. “Despite all that I’ve done for Chicago, none of that matters, that doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just a [salary] cap number. I realize that. They realize that. It’s the game. It’s the world we live in. I’m very well aware of that. At the end of the day it was business. At the end of the day it’s always business. If I get hurt, if I go down, the show goes on. I’m replaced. When I retire, it’ll be somebody else and I’ll be long gone and forgotten. That’s just how this business and this league operates.

"So it was just all business at the end of the day. I didn’t take it personally. They didn’t take it personally. They were just trying to get the best guy at the cheapest amount. That’s just kind of how this business roles.”

Tillman was one of the many casualties on defense last season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection started just eight games (52.5 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles) before suffering a season-ending triceps injury. Tillman watched as the Bears’ defense hit historic lows, ranking dead last in the league against the run.

But the offense thrived under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, finishing No. 2 in points scored and No. 5 in passing yards.

That resurgence on offense, coupled with key offseason defensive signings such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, has Tillman convinced this could be his best shot to reach a Super Bowl since the 2006 team.

“Our offense did a really good job for us last year keeping us in games because what we were doing on defense wasn’t cutting it,” Tillman said. “The hard part about our offense is can they do it again? We claimed that title last year of being a very good offense. That was last year. This is this year now. Can you do it again? Nobody cares about last year. You can’t hang your hat on being one of the best offenses of 2013. If you do, it’s going to be a long season for us.

"Defensively, we can’t hang our heads on being the worst defense in the NFL last year. Right now we have to focus on and prepare to be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2014. It’s a title you have to reclaim every year. From both a team standpoint and individual perspective. It’s all reset. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions last year. Well, there’ll be a new one this year. Everybody is equal and everybody is even.

"I think Lamarr and Jared are going to help us out a lot. But how much better are we? I think we are better, but that’s just a thought. I think we have the best team on paper in the NFL right now; the hard part is going out there and proving that we are the best team. Right now, we are stacked. We have a lot of talent of defense. I think the Bears did a very good job in helping us out in areas that we were weak in last year. We just need to go out and execute like we are supposed to, and then we can call ourselves a better team.”

Tillman, a native of Texas, has spent the days leading up to training camp working in conjunction with Gatorade to educate younger football players and athletes on heat safety and the importance of hydration when participating in sports during the warm summer months.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago's signing of veteran safety Adrian Wilson in June slipped past some observers, with the pundits paying attention believing the team acquired a player no longer capable of consistently performing at a high level.

The Chicago Bears obviously view Wilson differently. In fact, Wilson is very much in contention for one of Chicago’s two starting safety jobs, which are currently up for grabs.

Wilson
“I’ve talked to Adrian enough to know he’s truly a professional,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s committed to the game and being great at the game. He’s got an opportunity to come back and play the game in a situation he thinks he can not only help our football team, but to continue to play at a high level. So we’ll see. We’re excited to have him. He’s been an outstanding player in this league for a very long time; one of the best to play this game.”

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson caught the eye of the team’s personnel men with a strong workout in June, and one source within the organization believes if the veteran remains healthy, he could give Chicago’s secondary the intimidating presence it has lacked at the safety position in recent seasons. None of the contenders currently on the roster are as physical as Wilson, according to the source.

However, Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, missed all of the 2013 season due to injury. It was reported that Wilson suffered a torn Achilles, but the safety posted on Twitter recently that he was dealing with Haglund’s deformity, which is a bony enlargement on the back of the hell that rubs against and irritates the Achilles.

In 181 career games, Wilson has racked up 978 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 106 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles in addition to recovering nine fumbles.

“We brought Adrian in for a workout. It was obvious he still has a very good burst,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “In terms of how he moved around, the burst he displayed, the hand and ball skills, there [was] no reason not to sign him, to put him in the competitive mix. The position is wide open. If Adrian Wilson walks in here and he’s in football shape and, like the rest of them, stays healthy, he can claim the job. But he’s gonna have a fight on his hands.”

The Bears lost last season's starter at strong safety, Major Wright, to Tampa Bay during free agency, and free safety Chris Conte will begin training camp on the active physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. The Bears signed veterans Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray during the early portion of free agency before bringing aboard Wilson late.

Mundy took the majority of repetitions with the starters at strong safety during organized team activities and minicamps. But in Chicago’s defense, the safety “positions are essentially interchangeable,” according to Trestman, which means that Wilson could wind up playing either spot for the Bears, as could Mundy and the other candidates.

“We want to find the best two guys,” Trestman said. “In other words, if Ryan and Adrian are both at the strong safety position on Friday, that doesn’t mean Ryan can’t go to free [safety] on Saturday and Adrian can’t be at strong safety. I’m not trying to get into how we’re going to start this thing. I’m just saying we’re going to move these guys around and try to find the best two guys that can play every down.”

Bears look like monsters on offense

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- When Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman talks about dealing with "the noise," he's not thinking about the crickets outside the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms.

When the fans show up in full force this weekend to watch the Bears practice, the two words on everyone's lips will be "Super Bowl."

That's OK. That's what the organization is thinking about, too.

"That's our goal," the always loquacious Phil Emery said at the team's opening news conference. "We're not going to apologize for it; that's our goal. Our goal as an organization is to win championships. We have fallen short since I've been here. That doesn't mean we're going to change our goal."

The Bears finished far from that goal last year in an 8-8 season marred by a last-second loss to Green Bay that knocked Chicago out of the playoffs. But hopes are high for this team, which finally has an offense worth talking about.

While almost every position is up for grabs on defense following last year's grind-it-out season, the offense comes back almost completely whole, with visions of domination in their second year under Trestman's tutelage.

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery. These are the new Monsters of the Midway.

You know it's a different era when we're asking Cutler questions about overconfidence.

"We haven't had a lot of success, so I don't think it's that hard" to protect against cockiness, Cutler said. "It's not like we're coming off a monster season after monster season. I still think this is still a hungry group. There's a lot left that we want to prove."


(Read full post)


BOURNONNAIS, Ill. -- Before the club could actually start the task of delivering on the high expectations set for the offense, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery announced the team will kick off training camp without Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long, who will miss time due to a viral infection.

Long
“He will not be available at the start of camp,” Emery said. “Kyle Long has suffered a viral infection He got hit over the weekend. He's lost a little strength because of it. Obviously he's fighting through it. [Long] won't be available through this weekend.”

Emery and head coach Marc Trestman didn’t disclose the significance of Long’s infection, but the general manager said the Bears are encouraged because the guard’s condition has improved. The club plans to re-evaluate Long next week, before making a decision about how to proceed.

The team didn’t provide a definitive timeline for Long’s recovery.

“It’s not infectious,” Emery said. “Kyle is feeling better. If it was left up to Kyle, he would be out there. We’re just going to be cautious; let him get the rest he needs. The rest is very important so he can fully recover, and so it doesn’t come back on him.”

Long isn’t expected to miss a significant amount of practice time, as the Bears won’t conduct their first actual session of training camp until Friday, a day after the club holds its conditioning test at Olivet Nazarene University. Should Long miss time on the field, it’s expected that James Brown would fill in and work with the starters at right guard.

The 20th overall pick of the 2013 draft, Long became the first Bears offensive lineman to earn Pro Bowl recognition since 2006. Long started all 16 games last season, playing a key role in the offensive line surrendering its lowest sack total since 2008 (30 sacks), while opening holes for Matt Forte to rush for 1,339 rushing yards.

Trestman called Long's offseason "excellent" and expects Long to improve on his surprising rookie campaign.

“We thought he got better certainly in the understanding of our offense, protections, hand placement, taking the proper steps," Trestman said. "He understands how important that is, where he had no clue a year ago in terms of what that is all about. [Offensive coordinator] Aaron [Kromer] has said that on many occasions and we’ve talked about that. So he’s way ahead. He’s got some confidence. He knows he can play this game. He knows he can play in this league and he wants to get better. He legitimately knows he can improve. Aaron and [offensive line coach] Pat [Meyer] have talked to him about the things that he can do to get better, and he’s going about his business doing that.”

Bears' Chris Conte lands on PUP

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Three-year starting Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is expected to miss the team's first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 8, general manager Phil Emery announced Wednesday.

Conte is still recovering from shoulder surgery he elected to undergo on March 26 to fix a lingering problem that plagued the safety for more than a year.

Conrath
Conte
There is no concrete timeline for Conte to return to the practice field.

"I can't predict healing," Emery said. "I wish I could. I'd make even more money than I'm making now. But Chris is where he's at. He made the decision that he wanted surgery and he pressed forward and he's in that recovery phase. We anticipate that somewhere here in camp, not before the first preseason game, but after that, that he'll start practice. Depending on how well he practices and how well he responds to contact will determine how many preseason games he plays after that first one. But it won't be the first preseason game."

Despite setting career-highs in tackles (90), interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (1), Conte experienced a bumpy 2013 season that culminated with a fourth-quarter busted coverage in the Week 17 finale against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

Conte's struggles, however, were magnified by the Bears' porous front-seven on defense and their inability to tackle ball carriers before they reached the second level, which forced all of the team's defensive backs to repeatedly make difficult open field tackles. The Bears surrendered a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game last season.

Regardless, Conte faces intense competition to earn a roster spot in 2014 after the Bears beefed up the safety position by adding Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen (fourth-round draft choice).

Fellow safety Craig Steltz is likely to practice on Friday after he underwent offseason groin surgery, but a final determination won't be made until later in the week, per Emery.
Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) and left guard Matt Slauson (shoulder) have received full medical clearance to begin camp. Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long will be sidelined indefinitely due to a viral infection.

Palmer, Clausen to battle for No. 2 QB

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Jordan Palmer, 30, showed the Chicago Bears' coaching staff enough in the offseason program to enter training camp as the No. 2 quarterback, but Palmer's spot on the roster is far from secure.

Palmer
Clausen
The most immediate threat to Palmer appears to be former Notre Dame standout and 2010 Carolina Panthers second-round draft choice Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was a late addition to the offseason roster, but he clearly impressed the coaching staff at the tail end of organized team activities and during the veteran minicamp after signing a one-year deal with the Bears on June 5. The Bears also spent a sixth-round draft choice on quarterback David Fales, who passed for 8,382 yards and 66 touchdowns in two seasons at San Jose State.

"Right now, Jordan Palmer has the first shot at being No. 2, [but] it's a competition," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Wednesday. "There are three guys who are up for the No. 2, but it's going to start with Jordan. We feel very good about Jimmy and we felt very good about David's performances as well. So we're going to work it like that. We're going to give Jordan the first shot. He's been here the longest. Jimmy Clausen has the most experience so we're going to work him in there, and we're going to provide David with opportunities throughout camp to play and perform not just in practice, but in games.

"It'll be an on-going process [that takes place] day-to-day. We don't have to make a decision for quite some time and we'll get a chance to see a lot of plays of practice and certainly in the preseason games as well."

Bears general manager Phil Emery described Clausen as having "a chip on his shoulder" and "eager to prove people wrong" after the quarterback started just 10 games for Carolina from 2010-13.

Palmer has appeared in only four regular-season games (zero starts) since 2008 with the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 10-of-15 passes for 59 yards and two interceptions.

Finding a serviceable No. 2 quarterback is essential for the Bears after injuries have forced incumbent starter Jay Cutler to miss 12 games over the past three seasons. Josh McCown thrived in the backup role in 2013, but the veteran signed a lucrative contract in the offseason to be the new starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's going to be interesting," Cutler said of the battle for No. 2. "There's not going to be a lot of reps for them. I think a lot of it is going to play out in the preseason games. Because I'm going to get a lot of the reps in camp. Jordan, he's been around a long time, his older brother, he's been able to watch him a lot. Jimmy, he's played in big games at Notre Dame and kind of got the pedigree. He's a high-round pick; he was in a tough position in Carolina. They're both very hungry, they've both worked extremely hard this offseason putting in the time mentally, which is probably more important for them right now, just trying to figure out the playbook so they can go to the line of scrimmage and be fluent in what they want to do. We'll see how it goes."
video

Jay Cutler is surrounded by elite fantasy talent, so does that make him elite in 2014?

Chris Conte could miss part of camp

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ESPN.com Chicago Bears reporter Michael Wright says veteran Chris Conte could start camp on the physically unable to perform list recovering from shoulder surgery.
CHICAGO -- If there were one phrase that is antithetical to Jay Cutler's career, it's "a day at the beach."

Nothing has come easy for Cutler in his time with the Bears, except for the contracts.

But last Friday, there was Cutler chilling at North Avenue Beach a week before training camp opened. It was the last gasp of his summer. His season begins this week.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP PhotoCan Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler progress, as well as succeed, in Year 2 of coach Marc Trestman's system?
Cutler welcomed reporters to his charity beach volleyball tournament, answered a few anodyne questions and spent the day mixing and mingling with the teams that paid a grand to his diabetes charity, with the winners getting to have dinner with Cutler that evening.

The media team was gunning for that dinner, trust me.

In the five minutes he spent with reporters, Cutler showed off his playful, joking side, which we see on occasion, but not enough.

I saw him take a selfie with an overeager (non-sports) radio host and later saw a picture he took with a bride and groom out at the beach taking wedding photos.

If Cutler wanted to, he could own Chicago. A good-looking, tough quarterback for the Chicago Bears: It should be easy.

But it hasn't been easy for him. Aside from his weekly in-season paid appearance on "The Waddle & Silvy Show," there is no vehicle to get to know Cutler, aside from his performance and his oft-critiqued body language. There is a distance between the city and Cutler. Maybe this is the year that divide is closed.

At the beach, Cutler wore a thick scruff of beard and short khaki shorts and seemed at peace. He looked happy and comfortable.

So I could write that snippet of time is going to symbolize how happy and comfortable he'll be as quarterback this season, his sixth with the Bears.

I guess I just did. But that's the last time I'm going to mention Cutler and body language this season. The last time I psychoanalyze Cutler, a person with whom I've never had a one-on-one conversation.

OK, OK, I can't promise I won't relapse when he grumbles at a reporter or looks forlorn on the sidelines, but that's my goal. Cutler doesn't want to throw interceptions, but things happen.

Covering Jay Cutler is the job for a novelist with third-person omniscience. Because I don't know what's going on his head and I'm tired of guessing.

I'm also not going to write the "Jay Cutler has no excuses" column that I've written, along with my peers, a hundred times already.

Yes, he's got head coach Marc Trestman, the same offense and an offensive line and the best receiving duo in the NFL and a new contract, etc. We know this. Jay knows this. There is no doubt he's more comfortable this season than in the past; how could he not be? Last year, he was learning. This year, he should be teaching.

"For sure, for sure, with all the guys around me, coach Trestman and the rest of coaches in place there's definitely comfort there, not only for me, but the rest of the guys as well," he said at his event.

At 31, he remains inscrutable to national reporters, aloof to local ones. Fans cherrypick his failings and contrarians back up his strengths. His low ranking in Ron Jaworski's big board of quarterbacks is enough to busy a sports radio talk show for a few days, at least.

No matter how good his supporting cast is and how often his teammates and coaches try to downplay that Cutler is the leading character in the Bears' story, he is the quarterback, which means he is the star. Like you, I want to see if his numbers match his abilities. I want to see if he can play a full season and return the Bears to the playoffs. I want to see if Cutler can re-brand himself as a winner instead of a whiner.

Last year, the storyline was "Is Cutler worth the contract?" General manager Phil Emery saved us from months of debate when he inked Cutler to a new deal on Jan. 2.

This year, it will be "Can Cutler realize his potential?" Cutler can save us from months of debate by, you know, realizing his potential.

But he can't do that in late July.

We still have a month of training camp before the Bears open at home against the Buffalo Bills. With a long season ahead of him, Cutler said he's ready to go to Bourbonnais, despite the pain of leaving his wife and two children.

"I'm ready, ready to go," he said about reporting to camp. "I think guys are itching to get back into it and see what we have. There's a lot of work to do."

Let the Season of Jay commence!
Jay Cutler can take the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, according to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who believes the enigmatic quarterback might now be hitting his prime.

Favre
Cutler
Asked on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko” show on Monday whether Chicago could advance to the Super Bowl with Cutler under center, Favre said “I think they can,” adding that it appears the Bears are finally starting to put enough talent around the quarterback after focusing for so many years on the defense.

“It goes without saying that Jay has all the tools it takes to be a great quarterback,” Favre said. “And I think the pieces are beginning to be in place. For years their defense had just been so dominating, and it’s time for their offense to really prove their worth. I think Jay can be that guy.”

Chicago’s brass does, too, considering the organization rewarded Cutler back in January with a contract extension worth $126 million. Cutler celebrated his 31st birthday back in April, and although players’ physical skills often start to diminish after the age of 30, Favre pointed to a pair of former MVPs in making a case for the Chicago quarterback.

Asked if Cutler could become a great quarterback after the age of 30, Favre didn’t hesitate.

“Rich Gannon did it. Steve Young did it. Sure,” Favre said. “I think you become a lot wiser as you kind of lose some of your physical abilities. I think at 30 for a quarterback, really, you’re just kind of hitting your prime.”

Perhaps one component of the growing wisdom Favre anticipates from Cutler will manifest itself in decision making. In part, because of supreme confidence in his arm strength, Cutler has gained a reputation for forcing throws into tight windows, which often leads to interceptions.

Favre had the same reputation during his 20-year NFL career, and called his arm strength “a blessing and a curse.” Favre holds the NFL record for career interceptions (336).

“What I mean by that, I had an arm that I felt was as good if not better than anyone,” Favre said. “I wasn’t as fast. I wasn’t as tall. I wasn’t as smart. But I knew I could make the throws no one else could make. I would attempt throws I knew I could get away with. Would it come back to haunt me sometimes? Sure it would. But I played 20 years and sometimes it bit me in the butt. Most of the time, I got away with it. I think had my arm not been as strong, I wouldn’t have attempted those. You get away with it more times than not, but occasionally it gets you. I think that’s just the way really any player plays throughout the league; knowing your imitations, and sometimes, it gets the better of you.”
Tim JenningsAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTim Jennings, left, expects to be rushing the quarterback more often this season.
We caught up with Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings recently to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from his work with martial arts expert Joe Kim to what he thought of the changes last season made by coach Marc Trestman.

As training camp approaches, here’s something to whet your appetite for Bears football:

Since you’re playing nickel some and you’re expected to do some blitzing, tell us what are you doing with Joe Kim?

Tim Jennings: Joe Kim, he’s supposed to be like a master of kung fu or whatnot. So he works a lot with our defensive line on their pass-rush moves. So I work with Joe Kim now that I’m playing the nickel position. I think I’m going to be blitzing a lot more. So I need to kind of work on some pass-rush moves, man, because I can’t beat everybody with the quickness and strength. So I want to put some more in my repertoire.

With the scheme changing up front, how much do things change for you guys on the back end?

Jennings: It doesn’t really change too much. [Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker] just wants us to be in the position to do our jobs. Really, our success comes from that defensive front, and I think that’s why he’s doing a lot more things to try to create the freedom for those guys to get to the quarterback and create pressure; just let me, Charles [Tillman], and now Kyle Fuller just do our thing.

With all the things this team did with the front this offseason, how much easier will it make your job on the back end?

Jennings: Of course, that’s exactly what I expect. On the back end we just have to do our job, be where we need to be and then the plays will start coming because of the pressure that we’re putting on the quarterback. The throws won’t be as perfect. Then, we could start getting a feel for some things to where we can be there a little bit quicker, where the field starts to shrink. Then, we can start to anticipate things a lot more. I think that’s just the approach that Coach Tucker has taken. Me and Charles, we’re taking that same approach. We just need to do our jobs, be where we need to be, do what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years that we’ve been playing together. With the pressure on the quarterback, if we’re getting to the quarterback, a lot more plays will come for us on the back end. It will work hand in hand. So if we’re where we need to be, we can take some throws away from the quarterback, make him hold it longer. We’ll get a lot more snaps.

Throughout the offseason, you’ve worked some at nickel while Fuller has gone to your spot outside. With camp coming up, do you anticipate any packages where maybe Fuller goes inside to nickel while you stay outside?

Jennings: Right now, I do not anticipate that. I think I’m that guy to move inside. Just the fact that we’re looking at our division, guys we’re going to face and stuff, matchups that we’ll have. We want to make sure the matchup is to where we’ve got the best advantage, where we can be equal with those guys. Maybe if we’re playing Detroit and they move Calvin Johnson inside at the slot, of course we’re going to have Charles Tillman follow him around. We feel like that’s a better matchup. It gives us the best chance to win. So we’re going to move guys around and we’re going to match up. I think that’s why we drafted Kyle Fuller. It was a good move.

Last year, you guys didn’t get the repetitions at practice that you had been used to getting in the past, and we saw what happened. Do you see this team making some changes or tweaks in terms of how you do things at practice this upcoming season?

Jennings: Well, I don’t think we’re going to change that. One thing about coach [Marc] Trestman is he’s big on competition. So he’s going to line up his ones against his ones. He wants to get the best out of both teams, offense, defense and special teams. So the structure I don’t think is going to change. As far as us not practicing [last year], I wouldn’t say all that. I think the reps that we get are quality reps because we compete so much. When I am out there, it’s against our ones. It’s against Brandon [Marshall]. It’s against Alshon [Jeffery]. It’s a way for us to get better. But he’s being smart about the reps knowing that it’s a long, long, long season. It’s big to make sure guys are healthy and ready to go on Sunday. It took me some getting used to when he first got here last year, to really realize what’s going on, why we’re doing things this way. But it’s making sense to me right now in seeing the structure he does things in and the competition he wants from this group is meaningful.
Training camp is coming, and you've got questions. So we figured it would be absolutely worth it to try to knock out a Bears mailbag before the start of training camp Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University. Thanks everyone for participating. @mikecwright: I have. He's a very engaging fellow whom I think has a chance to contribute significantly as a rookie. Back in May during the rookie minicamp, we had the opportunity to speak with him and ask him about what it was like to finally put on a Bears uniform. Here's what he said: "A dream come true. It's like when you come from the first year in high school, you're a little puppy, you're trying to learn; first year of college, it's the same thing. So I'm just trying to soak everything in and learn from the vets. It's definitely unreal right now. I still wake up every morning thinking this is a dream. But at the end of the day, I'm here man. And I'm happy to be here." What I liked about Ferguson is the fact he wasn't quick to pat himself on the back in terms of his physical skill set. He prefers to prove his worth on the field, which is refreshing. "I can't tell you what I can bring until I get on the field," Ferguson said. @mikecwright: It would be easy for me to tell you right here, but I prefer you take a minute to look at my projected 53-man roster, which ran Friday. You can find the answer you seek here. @mikecwright: It's too early to say whether he'll make the team, but in my mind that player is linebacker Christian Jones, who was a big-time standout at Florida State but wasn't drafted. At FSU, Jones played all over the place and started games at every linebacker spot for the Seminoles, in addition to defensive end. He was expected to be picked as high as the second round, yet his name went uncalled during the draft. At rookie minicamp back in May, Jones admitted that a diluted drug test at the NFL combine in February likely resulted in teams shying away from him. Here's an interesting note about Jones: His father, Willie Jones Sr., played at Florida State with Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring, which is part of the reason the rookie chose to sign with Chicago. "I knew I'd get some good coaching from [Herring] and I know about the Bears history, winning nine championships," Jones said. "It's a great organization and I just wanted to be a part of it. It's a lot of motivation [to go undrafted]. It's the competitive side. You see guys getting drafted above you. Everybody thinks they're better than somebody. But that's how it is. It's going to help fuel me, and I believe things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here, and I'm just making the best of the opportunity." I'd say keep an eye out for Jones because he's a player. @mikecwright: Absolutely he does. Remember, when Jeremiah Ratliff joined the Bears he was coming off an injury, and the Bears more or less just let him take his time going through the healing process. That was a huge positive for Ratliff and the Bears because he's 100 percent ready to go. Your question reminds me of a text I received from a member of the Bears organization shortly after the club re-signed Ratliff. So I dug through my phone to find it. It said: "It helps that we signed Rat. He's a soldier if healthy!" Well, now Ratliff is fully healthy, and the Bears are expecting him to be a steady and disruptive force up front this season. Ratliff will be 33 once the season starts, but I don't see his age being a major concern. @mikecwright: I do, but not necessarily for the reasons you'd think. First off, what the Bears did in terms of reloading up front will be huge in helping the secondary. If the front four can consistently put pressure on the opposing quarterback, obviously the secondary doesn't have to stay in coverage as long, and that's huge. So that's the No. 1 reason the secondary will be improved. Here's No. 2. When the Bears revamped the coaching staff last season, it took away a ton of the continuity the club had established with the former coaching staff under Lovie Smith. Under Smith, Jon Hoke worked with the cornerbacks. Smith's son, Mikal, worked with the nickel corners, and Gill Byrd spent his time with Chicago's safeties. When the new staff came aboard last season the players weren't able to get as much individualized coaching because Byrd and Smith obviously left, leaving Hoke to try to work with both the cornerbacks and the safeties. Ultimately, defensive quality control assistant Chris Harris ended up working with the safeties, and although he's got tons of knowledge as a former player, you have to keep in mind that 2013 was his first season as a coach. I think this season there will be more continuity with the coaching staff, and Hoke will return to working with the cornerbacks, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will start spending more time working with the safeties. I didn't even get into the new additions, which obviously should help. But I think the moves with the front four and the coaching staff changing the way it does things will be the two biggest contributors to improved play in the secondary. 
Examining the Chicago Bears' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Despite recently signing, Jimmy Clausen quickly gained ground on Jordan Palmer at the club's veteran minicamp and appears poised to unseat the latter for the No. 2 job behind Cutler. The team likes Fales' long-term potential, and it will look to keep him on the roster as a developmental prospect to groom in Marc Trestman's scheme.


RUNNING BACKS (4)

Forte's role in the offense is expected to evolve somewhat, and the team added an interesting between-the-tackles grinder in Carey, who is arguably the most physical back of the entire 2014 class. Fiammetta will stay in his role as fullback, and Ford will contribute mostly on special teams if he can't claim the primary backup role behind Forte.

RECEIVERS (5)

Marshall and Jeffery will get an opportunity to prove they're the league's best duo at the position in 2014. Wilson comes into the season with high hopes and the expectation that he'll grow into the No. 3 role. Morgan and Weems will be pushed by all the young prospects at camp, but their experience and reliability will win out.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

This is a position where it might make sense to add a third player. Bennett clearly is the team's best all-around tight end, while Mulligan excels as an in-line blocker. Zach Miller is more of a receiving tight end than all-around blocker, but if the Bears go with three tight ends, either he or Dante Rosario could get the call.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

The case could be made that offensive line is one of the team's strongest position groups, which is somewhat strange given all the struggles the Bears have experienced in recent years there. The starting five from 2013 return for 2014, and the Bears also have some prime candidates should they decide to reload up front, as Britton and De La Puente are capable of starting.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

Look for veterans at the bottom of the roster such as Scott, Lane and Collins to be pushed tremendously by several of the youngsters at training camp. Injuries in 2013 made this position group a weakness, but the Bears made sure to load up on the defensive line through the draft and free agency.

LINEBACKERS (6)

The Bears will have difficult decisions to make here, and we believe Jones, an undrafted rookie, is talented enough to make the team. Khaseem Greene has improved, but it will likely come down to him and Senn for that final linebacker spot, which Senn might win because of his abilities as a special-teamer.

CORNERBACKS (5)

The depth chart here is pretty set in stone, but first-rounder Fuller will definitely see plenty of time on the field.

SAFETIES (4)

Both starting spots are up for grabs, but Conte probably won't be ready for the start of camp. If he doesn't recover quickly, he could wind up losing his roster spot. We've got Wilson making the cut, but his odds are long; he has to prove he's still got something left in the tank.

SPECIALISTS (4)

Williams is the only question mark among the specialists, and he's being pushed hard by Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Josh Bellamy.

Camp preview: Chicago Bears

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's Michael C. Wright examines the three biggest issues facing the Chicago Bears heading into training camp.

Cutler after the big-money contract: Lost in all the anticipation for the upcoming season seems to be an undercurrent of skepticism regarding whether quarterback Jay Cutler is worth -- or whether he’ll eventually prove he’s worth -- the seven-year deal signed in January worth $126.7 million. The verdict remains out, and even the team made sure to structure an escape hatch into the Cutler deal. Essentially, Cutler signed a three-year deal worth $54 million that contains rolling club options from now until 2016. If the Bears decide to release Cutler after the 2016 season, they can do so with no salary-cap repercussions because he didn’t receive a signing bonus, which means no proration.

Cutler took a major step in his first season working with head coach Marc Trestman, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. But will Cutler continue to trend in that direction?

In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. But last year, the quarterback produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2, his best since his rookie season (2006). The coaching staff and front office believe they made a wise investment in Cutler. What’s more is the players in that locker room believe in Cutler, too.

Safety play: Unrest at the safety positions seems synonymous with the Bears in recent years, and the team goes into camp with both spots up for grabs. The Bears drafted Brock Vereen, and signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson to battle it out for the top spots. Mundy has taken repetitions with the first group as have Vereen and Jennings, but the picture won’t start to clear up until the Bears play some preseason games.

“The simple fact [that] we’ve rotated him in with the ones is a clear indication we think he can compete,” Trestman said of Vereen, a fourth-round pick. “We’re not going to anoint him yet. You’ve got to be very careful with young players. They get in shorts and they’re doing well, and then you put on the pads and you’ve got to see how they are in pads. There’s no reason to think he can’t put himself in position to compete for one of those jobs, but it’s way, way too early.”

Chris Conte is the only returning starter at the safety position, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be fully healthy for the start of camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, which forced him to miss organized team activities and minicamp.

Can Shea play LB? That’s been the question regarding former first-round pick Shea McClellin since the team announced it would be moving him to linebacker from defensive end. While McClellin certainly doesn’t appear to be out of place at his new position, we still haven’t seen him in live game situations. So it’s unclear whether the Bears will be able to salvage the first pick of Phil Emery’s tenure as general manager.

“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.”

McClellin is competing with Jon Bostic for the starting spot at Sam linebacker, and it’s likely Bostic will win the job. That could relegate McClellin to more of a role as a pass-rushing specialist. McClellin is also taking repetitions at middle linebacker, but he’s not likely to beat out incumbent D.J. Williams or Bostic.

McClellin deserves credit for transforming his body during the offseason in preparation for the new role. Now he has to prove he’s capable of performing consistently in the new gig.

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