Bears

Bears' Bell ready to step up with Barber out

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Bears' Bell ready to step up with Barber out

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
Posted: 1:52 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
He hasnt practiced all week and was restricted to working on his injured calf muscle with medical staff on the sidelines before practice. So it came as no surprise that running back Marion Barber was confirmed as out of Sundays game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The loss of Barber elevates Kahlil Bell to Matt Fortes No. 2 after getting zero carries all of 2010, the year given to Chester Taylor as Fortes backup. Bell was the Bears leading rusher in preseason, playing primarily against backups on opposing defenses but netting 157 yards on 35 carries for an average of 4.5 yards and one TD.

I feel like Ive done the things necessary to prepare myself to be successful when I get an opportunity, Bell said. So Im here, and Im still loving it, and when I get a shot, hopefully I can produce.

Bell played in seven games in 2009, carried 40 times and turned in an impressive 5.5 yards per carry, aided in large part by his 72-yard TD run on his first-ever NFL carry.

Great opportunity, you have to be ready, coach Lovie Smith said. Kahlil has been in this position before. Hes a pro. Hes had a good camp. Theres a reason why hes on our football team right now, and if youre a backup, this is the time that you want. If your number is called, the team expects us to have a running back in that position that can get the job done.

Bell put himself through a grueling offseason regimen that included running repeated sprints up a long, steep hill in the tradition created by Walter Payton for Chicago running backs.

He established himself on special teams during the preseason, a clear advantage over Taylor apart from any salary or production differences. Whether he stays on special teams Sunday, however, is unlikely given his expanded role on offense.

The more you can do, the more valuable you are to any team or any organization, Bell said. I definitely want to be a running back, dont get me wrong. I love running the ball. Thats what I feel like what I was put here to do.

But at the same time, if theyre asking me to cover a kick or help in punt protection or whatever they ask me to do. Any time Im out there, Im going to give 100 percent.

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.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.