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Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

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Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted: 12:30 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The NFL offseason may be in turmoil and the pre- and regular seasons may still be in for some heavy weather, but the NFLs hidden season is in full cycle as it always is this time of year.

Call it the hidden season because its the part of the NFL year that few normally see and even fewer really appreciate. Its sometimes convenient to dismiss players as only working 16 Sundays (plus the odd Monday or Thursday) a year but this is the time of year when players sometimes determine whether theyll actually have jobs on those 16 game days.

Gregg Rosenthal at ProFootballTalk.com mentions Matt Forte and Greg Olsen getting their work in at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami along with a number of other NFLers. Olsen checks in with Twitter reports as well (@gregolsen82).

The lockout is contributing to a long-standing offseason tradition among NFL players, and not just Bears players. And it wasnt always just offseason.

The current strength and conditioning staff and facilities are substantially improved at the Halas Hall that Michael McCaskey and the organization designed and opened in 1997. But a number of players, more now with Halas closed to them pending the April 6 hearing on an injunction to end the lockout, are doing their work at a number of facilities around the area and around the country.

Friends working out at Poliquin Performance Center in Northfield share machines with Robbie Gould (Man, Robbie Gould is strong! was one observation this morning), Roberto Garza (People have no idea how huge and strong these guys really are was another report) and others are spending workout time at EFT Sports Performance and TCBOOST in Northbrook and other facilities specializing in high-intensity trainings.

Theres a funny historical aside to all this, however.

Players have always used these facilities for offseason and sometimes in-season extra work. Its less the case now but players at one time were so unhappy with some of the strength and fitness directives coming from a (now-gone) strength coach that they covertly went to private trainers and facilities while at the same time complying with what the team was requiring. And they were adamant: Keep it a secret.

Thats changed in recent years with Rusty Jones, the director of physical development, athletic trainer Tim Bream and some very sophisticated technologies for rehab as well as basic programs.

And now they at least dont have to keep it a secret.

BASEBALL ALERT!

Michael Jordan once briefly left a promising basketball career for a fling at baseball. Now Matt Forte?

Forte tweeted this morning (@MattForte22), think Im gonna play pro baseball. Come to the Sox game on April 9 to catch my debut.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.