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Teammates believe in rookie linemen

Posted by Larry Mayer on September 4, 2013 – 5:01 pm

Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills are set to become the first pair of Bears rookie offensive linemen to start a season opener since 1983. But teammates who’ve worked closely with the two draft picks since the spring no longer view them as rookies.

“I don’t really think about it anymore,” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “They played there the whole [preseason]. I mean, the first day I thought about it. But then Day 2, I didn’t think as much about it, and Day 3 I didn’t think as much about it. It’s like Week 8 now with them out there so I really don’t think about it as much. I think they’re doing a great job.”

Veteran center Roberto Garza has been most impressed with the duo’s willingness to learn.

“They’re just eager to pick things up, and they want to go over things over and over again until we get it right,” Garza said in advance of Sunday’s opener against the Bengals at Soldier Field. “Both guys are very talented, and I’m looking forward to seeing them on Sunday.”

Garza isn’t worried about Long and Mills being overwhelmed by pre-game jitters.

“The entire line will be working together, so it’s all our jobs to keep everybody on the same page,” Garza said. “It’s the first game for everybody. I know the left side played a couple more games, but it’s the first game of the season and everybody is going to get the pregame jitters. So we’re all going to be talking every play and trying to get everybody on the same page.”

Garza told reporters that he’s not surprised the two rookies earned starting jobs.

“You see the guys play,” Garza said. “The guys are doing a hell of a job when they get opportunities. This league is about opportunities, and they took advantage of it and they proved themselves. Now it’s time to go out there and do it play-after-play.

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Bears healthy heading into opener

Posted by Larry Mayer on September 4, 2013 – 3:59 pm

All 53 players on the Bears roster practiced without restrictions Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field.

That included receiver Earl Bennett, defensive tackle Henry Melton and middle linebacker D.J. Williams, all of whom missed all or most of the preseason due to injuries.

“Everybody worked today,” coach Marc Trestman told reporters. “All the players that you’ve asked about over the last few weeks how they were doing were out there. We had everybody out there.”

The Bengals listed eight players on their injury report: Cornerback Brandon Ghee (concussion), guard Mike Pollak (knee) and tackle Andre Whitworth (knee) did not practice; defensive tackle Devon Still (knee) was limited; and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (concussion), tight end Tyler Eifert (forearm), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion) and tackle Andre Smith (knee) worked out without restrictions.

In other news Wednesday, the Bears made a practice squad move, re-signing guard Derek Dennis and terminating the contract of quarterback Jerrod Johnson.

Dennis spent the final five weeks of last season on the Bears practice squad and a majority of the preseason with the team before he being waived last Friday as part of final cuts. The 6-3, 315-pounder entered the NFL last year as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins out of Temple.

Johnson, who was cut just three days after being signed to the practice squad, could return.

“We’re just in the process of moving our roster around,” Trestman said. “There were multiple issues putting this 53 together for the week. And we’re not closing the door on him either. It’s certainly possible that he could be back in the very near future.

“It wasn’t anything he did or the way he operated over the last couple days. We had to do some things with the roster and we’ll see where we are at the beginning of next week. It’s just going to be some of these 52, 53 and 54 guys we could have to move around to get our roster right for the week, and there were reasons why we did it.”

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Undrafted rookie Ford battling for job

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 29, 2013 – 1:07 pm

Bears rookie Michael Ford was an explosive running back and kick returner at LSU who posted impressive numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine—but he still was not selected in the draft.

“I couldn’t really tell you why I wasn’t drafted,” Ford said. “But at the end of the day everything happens for a reason. I’m thankful for the Bears giving me this opportunity and getting out here to play and show my skills.”

Battling for the third running back position behind Matt Forte and Michael Bush, Ford has impressed the Bears in preseason action, especially in the return game. The 5-10, 216-pounder has rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, caught seven passes for 52 yards and averaged 35.3 yards on nine kickoff returns including a 100-yarder against the Chargers.

“So far he’s done a good job for the most part,” said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. “He’s had a couple things he’d probably like to have back, but he’s done a good job. We’ll see what happens with him. He’s one of the guys that’s definitely in the mix.”

Ford’s main competition for the third running back spot is Armando Allen, who is expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale after missing two games with a hamstring injury. With Allen out, Ford tried to make the most of expanded reps.

“You’ve definitely got to take advantage of those,” Ford said. “But being a team man, I hope he comes back and he gets to get in that rotation and keep fighting and fighting just like me.”

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Wilson enjoying impressive preseason

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 29, 2013 – 12:43 pm

It’s unclear whether receiver Marquess Wilson will earn a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster, but the rookie seventh-round draft pick is in contention thanks to a strong preseason.

“Marquess has shown up in games and he knows coming in here that he had to do everything right to have a chance to make the team and he’s done a lot of things right,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “He’s made plays in games, he’s made plays in practice, and consistency for a young guy is the biggest part.”

Through three preseason games, Wilson leads Bears receivers with 96 yards on five receptions, including an impressive 58-yard catch-and-run against the Carolina Panthers.

“He does know what to do,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “I think things come very naturally to him as a player, as a receiver. He needs to get a little bit stronger, little more assertive and that’s just going to come with more experience with him being out there and going through things.

“Whenever we throw him the ball, he catches it, and that’s what you want to see in a receiver. So we’ll steadily bring him along and he’ll be a contributor for us.”

Wilson is listed third on the depth chart at one receiver position behind Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett. Bennett was expected to be the team’s third wideout behind Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but the fourth-year pro has been sidelined since Aug. 3 with a concussion.

Other receivers competing for backup positions include Joe Anderson and Eric Weems, both of whom contribute more on special teams than Wilson.

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Greene hopes to make most of extra reps

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 29, 2013 – 12:27 pm

With most Bears starters not suiting up in Thursday night’s preseason finale, Khaseem Greene is eager to take advantage of the expanded playing time he’ll likely get against the Browns.

“Every opportunity to play for me is exciting,” said the rookie linebacker. “It helps me learn the game; make mistakes so I can get on film and correct and definitely not make them when it counts, when my team is counting on me and when the coaches are counting on me. Even in the exhibition games, it’s still on me not to make mistakes. It’s just more or less getting more game experience.”

Greene, who has been working primarily behind perennial Pro Bowler Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker, has impressed defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

“We just keep talking to him about playing faster and faster every day and working to get better,” Tucker said. “It starts with his technique fundamentals, his alignments and things like that and just playing fast and not worrying about making mistakes. It’s a daily process with all these guys, just trying to find ways to improve every time out, whether it’s practice or a game. I’m excited to see these guys. They’re going to get a lot of reps in this game.”

The Bears spent two of their first three draft picks on linebackers this year, selecting Jon Bostic in the second round and Greene in the fourth. The two rookies have bonded since Day 1.

“We have a great relationship,” Greene said. “We feed off of one another. We push one another. If I make a mistake he’s there to correct me and if I know he’s making a mistake I can say, ‘Look, Jon, that was the wrong call and let’s get it fixed the next play.’ That’s the type of relationship we have with one another.”

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Onobun looks to rebound in finale

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 29, 2013 – 12:06 pm

Bears tight end Fendi Onobun showed flashes of athleticism and playmaking ability during training camp but has struggled mightily with dropped passes in preseason games.

In Thursday night’s exhibition finale against the Cleveland Browns, the 6-6, 260-pounder will get one last chance to prove he deserves a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster. Final cuts are due by 5 p.m. Saturday.

“Fendi Onobun has had a very good camp and has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in the games,” said first-year head coach Marc Trestman. “You’ve seen things in practice that we haven’t seen in the games. Does that mean we’ve lost confidence? No.

“We’ve got to continue to have him work through it. This is really his first year of football and he’s shown the ability to do it. He’s just got to work through this phase when he gets under the lights that he can continue to play as consistently and I think he can do that down the road.”

Onobun followed an unusual path to the NFL. He played basketball for four years at Arizona before using a final year of college eligibility to play football at the University of Houston in 2009.

Onobun was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Rams and appeared in three games as a rookie with St. Louis, catching two passes for 15 yards. He had brief stints with the Seahawks, Redskins, Jaguars and Bills before joining the Bears after the 2012 season.

Onobun has yet to catch a pass this preseason. He dropped a sure touchdown in the opener against the Panthers and had two more drops in last weekend’s win over the Raiders.

After the Bears returned to Chicago from Oakland, Onobun spent several hours at fellow tight end Martellus Bennett’s home having a heart-to-heart talk. Onobun and Bennett have been close friends since they were classmates and basketball teammates at Alief Taylor High School in Houston.

“I was just telling him that I think he just gets to the point where he just thinks football, football, football,” Bennett said. “But you could lose yourself. Football is not who we are; it’s what we do. Sometimes, when it becomes who you are, you kind of lose yourself. Every little thing that goes wrong with it, it affects you in a major way instead of being able to deal with the adversity.

“Bad stuff happens in football. You’re going to have the drops. You’re going to have a bad block. You’re going to have a bad play. Guys on the other side get paid $50 million to stop you from having a good play. For him, it’s just dealing with adversity and when something doesn’t go your way, put it behind you. Next play, you make a big block because a block is just as good as a catch. Make the extra effort on that. I think he just presses too much sometimes.”

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DeCamillis impressed with Hester, Ford

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 19, 2013 – 8:47 pm

Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis liked what he saw from the return game last Thursday night in the Bears’ 33-28 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers.

Devin Hester, who holds the NFL’s all-time record with 17 kick return touchdowns, brought back the opening kickoff 45 yards after fielding it eight yards deep in the end zone.

“He was pretty close [to breaking it for a TD],” DeCamillis said Monday. “The kicker made a nice play and then also the safety from the back side. It was just good to get him some action, some real action. It was good to see those guys blocking the way they did too because there were definitely some holes out there, which was nice to see.”

Michael Ford made an even more impressive play in the second half, returning a kickoff 100 yards to the San Diego 4-yard line, setting up a touchdown. Last season the undrafted rookie from LSU ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns, averaging 27.5 yards while producing four kickoff returns of 40 yards or longer, including an 86-yarder that led to a TD against Arkansas.

“It would be tough not to like what you saw in a Michael Ford,” DeCamillis said. “He did a great job. On his long one, that wasn’t one of the better blocked returns that we had all night. He made a guy miss right in the hole. That was a great run by him and he did a better job on coverage too. So he’s making it tough. He’s doing a good job of what we need to see from him, that’s for sure.”

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Long, Mills to start again in Oakland

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 19, 2013 – 6:06 pm

The right side of the Bears’ offensive line will remain intact for at least another week as rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills will start Friday night’s preseason game in Oakland.

With Long at right guard and Mills at right tackle, the Bears scored on four of their first six possessions in the first half of last Thursday night’s 33-28 preseason win over the Chargers.

“The right side of the line, we’ll keep it the same this week,” coach Marc Trestman said Monday. “There were enough good things that happened that we feel like we want to give them another opportunity to go out and play a little bit more against the first group and see what they can do.”

It’s premature to anoint Long and Mills opening day starters. But against the Chargers, both showed Trestman “just what we had seen in tape in college; they were athletic, they were physical.”

“Just overall there was an upside in assignments, physicality and athleticism,” Trestman said. “We’re not ready to pass judgment yet overall. We’re just going to let this thing play itself out. But to be as straightforward as I can, it was a positive experience for our football team to have them out there.

“They kept their poise. They did a lot of good things. They made mistakes as well that we think they can improve on and we’ll see how it goes another week.”

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Williams’ calf injury continuing to improve

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 19, 2013 – 5:15 pm

Sidelined since suffering a calf injury July 31 in training camp, veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams continues to work to get back onto the practice field.

“He is improving,” said coach Marc Trestman. “I’m going to meet with him this week to just kind of spend some time with him and see where he is. But he feels like he’s getting better. We feel he’s getting better.”

With less than three weeks until the Sept. 8 season opener against the Bengals, the clock is ticking.

“We’re getting closer to the season and his conditioning now becomes an issue,” Trestman said. “We think that eventually he’ll be back certainly. We just don’t know when. It’s just an improving situation.

“He’s on schedule to come back over the time period that we expected him to. Of course, he expected to come back a lot quicker and most players do of his caliber. So we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks and hopefully we’ll get him out here to practice in the next 12-14 days or better.”

Defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett also remained sidelined with concussions.

“Henry and Earl are getting better,” Trestman said. “It’s still day-to-day and we’re keeping our fingers crossed there that it will continue to improve as it has.”

Other players who sat out Monday’s practice included long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (rib), tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), running back Harvey Unga (rib) and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (ankle).

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Starters to see expanded playing time

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 19, 2013 – 4:04 pm

NFL teams typically treat their third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and that’s exactly how the Bears will approach Friday night’s contest in Oakland.

Starters are expected to play the first half and perhaps into the third quarter against the Raiders before seeing little or no action in the preseason finale Aug. 29 versus the Browns.

“We’ve seen enough of the top guys, but we haven’t seen them together against competition other than the Chicago Bears,” said coach Marc Trestman. “It’s important that they get out and from a conditioning aspect, from a reps standpoint, from playing through more adversity and more success, just get them a chance to play together.

“There are a lot of new guys in that lineup. If you line up in the right formation, you’ve got three new players on the team who weren’t here alone in a right guard (Kyle Long), right tackle (Jordan Mills) and tight end (Martellus Bennett).

“So that’s different in itself, and there’s chemistry and communication that goes into those guys working together. So we need the reps. We’re going to do that. We’re going to get them in there and let them work and see if we can’t have some success and create enough opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better on the field.”

While the starters will see expanded playing time, the Bears won’t give away any secrets.

“We’ll game plan with structure that is designed to attack, but not designed to give up formations and personnel groupings that we may use down the road,” Trestman said. “That’s about as frank as I could be. [It will be] simpler than what we may do during the season but enough to be able to create opportunities for these guys to get open in the passing game and certainly be able to run the football.”

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