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Melton’s move pays major dividends

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 28, 2012 – 10:44 am

After Henry Melton was switched from running back to defensive end at the University of Texas, moving from end to defensive tackle with the Bears didn’t require much of an adjustment.

Melton actually embraced the move, primarily because it was the idea of longtime defensive coach Rod Marinelli, who had helped Warren Sapp develop into a Pro Bowl tackle with the Buccaneers.

“I just wanted to help the defense any way I could, and when he said I had the stuff that he looks for in a premier defensive tackle, I listened to him and just got to work,” Melton said. “If he said that he saw me as an elite defensive tackle … I believed in what he was saying.”

The move has been a fruitful one for the Bears and Melton, who this week was voted to his first Pro Bowl. Despite missing the last two games with a chest injury, the four-year veteran has recorded 32 tackles and six sacks, tied for third most among NFL defensive tackles.

Marinelli felt that Melton would excel inside because he possessed speed, quickness and instincts.

“He’s got so much speed and all those things,” Marinelli said. “And I just felt over time he’s going to get what I call ‘man strength’ just as he gets older and matures. He can run and the balance is excellent. When you get guys inside with that athletic ability, now your match-ups are great.”

Melton is grateful to Marinelli for helping him develop as a player and a person.

“He’s a great guy, a great coach,” Melton said. “We spend a lot of hours together working, working extremely hard trying to mold me into a better man and definitely a better football player. I’ve got a lot of love for him and hopefully we can keep it going.”


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Toub: Lovie a great coach, needs to stay

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 28, 2012 – 10:25 am

With Lovie Smith’s job security a popular topic in the media, special teams coordinator Dave Toub gave the Bears coach a ringing endorsement on Thursday.

“The one thing about Lovie, he’s always going to be the same, and that’s a great character trait as a head coach,” Toub said. “He doesn’t waver. If [something] is bothering him, he doesn’t let the players see it, he’s not letting the coaches see it.

“He’s been steady and we are very lucky, the Chicago Bears are very lucky to have Lovie Smith and we better realize that. Everybody better realize that.”

Hired as part of Smith’s original Bears staff in 2004, Toub enjoys their working relationship.

“He lets coaches coach,” Toub said. “He lets me do my job. He has total trust in everything that I do and as a coach you can’t ask for a better situation. Obviously I don’t call everything without going through him, but he lets us design our schemes and doesn’t second guess what we do. You can’t get a better situation as a coach.

“Lovie’s a great coach and he needs to stay here.”


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Briggs: Walters will fit in with rest of us

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 28, 2012 – 10:00 am

Free safety Anthony Walters is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday against the Lions, but linebacker Lance Briggs isn’t worried about the second-year pro’s lack of experience.

“Even though a lot of us haven’t seen Walters on the field on Sundays, we’ve seen him plenty on the practice field,” Briggs said. “The guy is capable, smart. He understands where he needs to fit, and that’s what’s most important. You have 10 other guys out there on the field that are very familiar with what we’re doing. He’ll feel comfortable. He’ll fit right in with the rest of us.”

Walters recorded two tackles in the second half of last Sunday’s win over the Cardinals after Chris Conte exited with a pulled hamstring. The 6-1, 207-pounder has appeared in all 15 games this season and is tied for third on the team with 10 special teams tackles.

Walters insists he isn’t nervous joining a defense that features veteran stars such as linebacker Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.

“I think those guys can help take some of that pressure away,” Walters said. “All I have to do is be where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there, and those guys make plays.”


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Bears hoping Hester re-creates magic

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 20, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The Bears return to Arizona Sunday for the first time since 2006 when they scored three late touchdowns to turn a 23-3 deficit into a miraculous 24-23 victory on Monday Night Football.

Devin Hester capped that rally by returning a punt 83 yards for a touchdown, something that special teams coordinator Dave Toub would love to see again in this weekend’s game.

“You always want to win a game and if it takes a punt return or kick return then obviously that’s something that would be a plus,” Toub said Thursday after practice in the Walter Payton Center.

Hester, who holds the NFL record with 17 kick return touchdowns, has not padded the mark this season. But he’s flashed his old form the past two weeks with a 21-yard punt return against the Vikings and a 24-yard punt return and season-long 40-yard kickoff return versus the Packers.

“He’s being more aggressive,” Toub said. “Two weeks ago we asked him to be more aggressive  to the ball and attack it and show people the real Devin Hester, and he’s responding. The last two weeks he’s looked good, and hopefully he takes even another step this week.”

Sunday’s game pits two of the NFL’s top punt returners. While Hester led the league with a 16.2-yard average and two touchdowns last season, the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson was second with a 15.9-yard average and four TDs, tying the NFL record that Hester also shares.

“He’s by far the best punt returner that we’re going to face all year,” Toub said. “The guy’s extremely dangerous. I didn’t have to show a lot of clips before he got the guys’ attention. But they knew going in our hands are going to be full.”


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Bears continue to get healthier

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 20, 2012 – 4:20 pm

The Bears remain hopeful that five players who sat out last weekend’s loss to the Packers at Soldier Field will be able to play Sunday against the Cardinals in Arizona.

Receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), linebacker Geno Hayes (knee), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), defensive end Shea McClellin (knee) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) all practiced on a limited basis Thursday for the second straight day.

“All the guys are making progress that have been held out,” said coach Lovie Smith. “All the guys looked pretty good in practice today.”

Receiver Brandon Marshall (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (calf) also were limited. “Hopefully they’re not that serious and they’ll be able to go,” Smith said.

For the second straight day, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and right tackle Jonathan Scott did not practice due to hamstring injuries.

Watching from the sideline as the Bears lost to the Packers last week wasn’t easy for Melton.

“Oh man, it was rough,” he said. “I saw my guys battling out there. I wanted to be out there to make a big play for them. But when you get hurt you’ve got to get your treatment and be kind of a little cheerleader on the sideline for them.”

Melton was injured two weeks ago against the Vikings when he tripped and landed on his shoulder.

“I’m way more athletic than that play,” Melton said. “I call it being sloppy. I was running sideways and kind of stumbled over a bunch of guys’ feet and just fell straight on my shoulder.”


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Jennings tops fan balloting for Pro Bowl

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 20, 2012 – 2:55 pm

Ten Bears finished in the top five at their respective positions in fan balloting for the NFC Pro Bowl team, which ended Monday.

The only Bears player to lead his position in votes was cornerback Tim Jennings, who tops the NFL with eight interceptions. Cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and return specialist Devin Hester all finished second at their positions.

Receiver Brandon Marshall and strong safety Major Wright were third; defensive end Julius Peppers and special teams standout Blake Costanzo were fourth; and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and outside linebacker Lance Briggs were fifth.

The Pro Bowl teams are based on the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters that represent NFC and AFC.

NFL players and coaches cast their votes this week. The teams will be announced at 6 p.m. (CT) on Wednesday, Dec. 26 on NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access.”

The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, a week before Super Bowl XLVII, and televised live on NBC at 6 p.m. (CT) from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.


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Marshall takes leadership role seriously

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 19, 2012 – 5:47 pm

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall isn’t surprised that the statement he made following Sunday’s loss to the Packers that “everyone on offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,” was polarizing.

“When you make a comment like that, it’s almost guaranteed you are going to rub some people the wrong way, and then there are some people that might respond to it in a positive way,” Marshall said Wednesday at Halas Hall.

When asked about accountability Wednesday, Marshall spoke solely about how he needs to improve his game in terms of run blocking, route running and technique. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver is encouraged that others are also looking in the mirror to see how they can improve.

“People are responding in a positive way,” Marshall said. “You’re hearing the word accountability being thrown around. You’re hearing guys starting to look at themselves, and that’s what it’s about.”

Marshall sees himself as a team leader for the first time in his seven-year NFL career.

“This is a new role for me as far as leadership,” Marshall said. “I know I am not perfect. Maybe I am approaching it the wrong way. But there are different ways you can lead. You can lead by example. You can lead by encouragement. You can lead by speaking and bringing energy. You can lead by sometimes calling guys out. It depends on the situation.

“I’ve been reading a lot of books on leadership, studying documentaries on some of the greats like ray Lewis and Michael Jordan and their approach to the game and more importantly just leadership.

“This is my first year really being in this role in a positive way. I have always been a guy in the locker room that guys counted on on the field making plays. As far as bringing the group together, that’s different. I just have to be patient and continue to control what I control and if I do that I can sleep good at night.”

Marshall concedes that it isn’t easy being a leader in a team sport.

“It’s definitely tough sometimes when things don’t go the way you expect them to go,” he said. “It gets frustrating, especially when the person that may be in that role is really passionate and really loves this sport.

“This game has done a lot for me. I remember when I first got here I told you guys that the NFL saved my life. I look at where I come from, the environment. I look at my journey these past six years. If it wasn’t for the NFL, I don’t know where I would be.”


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Tice: ‘I have to do a better job’

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 19, 2012 – 4:44 pm

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice knows exactly what the Bears have to accomplish Sunday when they visit the Arizona Cardinals in a must-win game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“We need to score more points,” Tice said. “We need to execute the game plan, we need to make sure we have a good game plan, we need to make sure I call plays where the players have a chance to make plays; do a better job with that—and then have a great week of practice and go down there with good energy and win the damn game, win the damn football game.”

The Bears have averaged only 14.2 points in losing five of six games after averaging 29.5 points while winning seven of their first eight contests. In last Sunday’s loss to the rival Packers, they were limited to 190 total yards and were 0-of-9 on third down.

Tice was asked Wednesday about receiver Brandon Marshall’s comment after the game that “everyone on offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs.”

“I didn’t hear it. It kind of filtered back,” Tice said. “We’re all emotional. It’s hard when you lose, not a game but it’s hard when you have a string like this and frustrations mount.

“We’re all accountable. It starts with me. I’m wearing a hat. I have to do a better job, and I’ve been in this league a long time to know how this pecking order works. It falls on my shoulders. It falls on everybody’s shoulder. But like I said, what can I do better to help me get better and help us win? That’s how I’m approaching this week with that kind of energy.”


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Five injured players return to practice

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 19, 2012 – 4:02 pm

As they prepare for Sunday’s must-win game in Arizona, it appears that the Bears are getting healthier.

Five players who sat out last weekend’s loss to the Packers with injuries practiced on a limited basis Wednesday: receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), linebacker Geno Hayes (knee), cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) defensive end Shea McClellin (knee) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest).

“We’ll need everybody this week,” said coach Lovie Smith. “We know what’s at stake for this game.”

Jennings’ return would be huge; he continues to lead the NFL with a career-high eight interceptions.

“We’re hopeful he’ll be able to go this week,” Smith said. “Having a guy come back with eight interceptions and just the type of play that we’ve gotten from him would give us all a boost, and not only him. There’s a chance we could get a few guys back that all have impressive numbers, like a Henry Melton and guys like that.”

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and right tackle Jonathan Scott did not practice due to hamstring injuries.

Asked about Urlacher’s timetable to return, Smith said: “He’s getting better, but with hamstrings it’s just hard to say exactly when you will get back. I just know that he’s here and with some of the things he’s doing it’s better than what it was before. It’s pretty hard to come back from a hamstring injury in a week or so.

“That’s why we need to play good football this week against Arizona and just buy time for him to get back.”


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Bears look to reverse troubling trend

Posted by Larry Mayer on December 12, 2012 – 5:40 pm

The Bears went 7-3 against the Packers in Lovie Smith’s first five seasons as coach from 2004-08, but have since lost seven of eight meetings including five straight to their arch rivals.

The Bears haven’t even had a lead in their last four games against the Packers, falling behind 14-0, 14-0, 7-0 and 13-0 en route to losses by scores of 21-14, 27-17, 35-21 and 23-10.

It’s a trend the Bears hope to reverse in Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Soldier Field.

“We’ve been on the wrong end of it a number of the last times and we need to find a way to get on the plus side and come out of this game with a victory,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

Since joining the Bears, Jay Cutler is 1-6 versus the Packers, completing 54.4 percent of his passes for 1,647 yards with eight touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 58.9 passer rating.

Asked what the offense must do better against Green Bay, Cutler said: “A lot of things. It’s not one area. I’ve got to play better, first and foremost, and get the rest of the guys up to speed with me. You’ve got to run the ball better. You’ve got to pass the ball better. You’ve got to block better. There’s no one area that we can’t improve in.”

In their Week 2 loss in Green Bay, the Bears mustered just one touchdown and 168 total yards while Cutler threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times.

“They are fast and they are very athletic,” Tice said. “They play with great intensity. They try to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, whether that be pass rush or the outside linebackers penetrating.”


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