Bears

Bears brass has these dates circled on NFL offseason calendar

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Bears brass has these dates circled on NFL offseason calendar

On your mark ... set ... your calendars!

Earlier this week, the Bears and the NFL released the official offseason schedule of formal dates and deadlines for their things to do and periods in which some key decisions can and will be made. It will likely be another month before we hear from general manager Ryan Pace and/or head coach John Fox for the first time since Jan. 4, when they addressed the media after the season finale. The team announced they won't be available to reporters at next week's Senior Bowl, but both spoke at last year's Scouting Combine. After that, odds are we won't hear another word until after their first major move in free agency, unless an agreement is reached with one of their 18 current unrestricted free agents. But a combination of Pace, Fox and members of their scouting department are already in Florida looking at the first group of NFL wanna-be's ahead of Saturday's first of back-to-back college all-star games. They'll then move on to Alabama for workouts and practices leading up to the final piece of game action they'll witness from prospective talent. Roster moves can then begin to be made two weeks from Monday.

[MORE BEARS: Bears' options widen with 96 underclassmen entering NFL Draft]

Jan. 23: East-West Shrine Game (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Jan. 30: Senior Bowl (Mobile, Ala.)

Feb. 8: Waiver process can begin for teams with their current players

Feb. 16 through March 1: Two-week window in which teams can place franchise or transition tags on their own free agents (3 p.m. deadline)

Feb. 23 through 29: Scouting Combine (Indianapolis)

March 6 through 9: 64-hour window begins in which teams can enter into contract negotiations with representatives for free agents; in the Bears' case, they have from 11 p.m. on March 6 through 3 p.m. on March 9

March 9: Free agent signing and trading begins the new league year at 3 p.m.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

April 18: Offseason, off-the-field supervised workouts can begin for teams with returning coaches

April 22: Deadline for designated restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams

April 28 through 30: NFL Draft (Chicago)

July 15: Deadline for free agents with a franchise tag to sign a multi-year extension with their team

The Bears have not yet publicly announced their dates for organized team activities and mandatory veteran minicamp. They normally hold a rookie minicamp the weekend following the draft (which in this case would be May 6 through 8).

Puppy Pick 'Em Puppy Walter makes his Week 7 picks for Bears-Saints

Puppy Pick 'Em Puppy Walter makes his Week 7 picks for Bears-Saints

When the Bears announced their 2019 schedule, we decided to have some puppies reveal the opponents. Now, we have taken it a step further. We have a puppy that will make weekly picks for the Bears games.

It is Week 7!

Walter's choices in Week 7 are a chance to go to Mardi Gras or a celebration of St. Patrick's day in Chicago. Bears fans should be excited about his decision in Week 7... and now we're all looking forward to St. Patrick's Day again!

The 12-week old dachshund was hand-selected by the scouts at NBC Sports Chicago and hails from One Tail at a Time rescue. He came from a shelter in Alabama and was transported to Chicago.  At just 7 weeks old and without his mom, he beat a deadly virus and spent some time in the doggie ER, where he healed and became strong again. 

Now, Walter is ready to rumble between the well-manicured lines of Sweetness Field. He is NOW adoptable via onetail.org and has two adorable sisters named Martha and Millie, who are already adopted. 

Walter will pick the games throughout the NFL season, including the playoffs and we hope that his nose follows the scent to the Bears every week, all the way to that magical game in Miami in February. Narrated by Jason Benetti, play-by-play announcer for the White Sox.  

It is time for Puppy Pick ‘Em presented by Nissan.

To learn more: www.onetail.org

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

1. Get production from receivers not named Allen Robinson. 

Robinson can expect to be followed all game by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s limited opposing receivers to nine catches on 20 targets in his last three games (a sampling of those receivers: Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark). So if Robinson isn’t open, it likely will have less to do with his own play and more the play of one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. 

With that in mind, Sunday will be a significant test for the Bears’ other pass catchers. This team’s offensive identity was supposed to be steeped in an ability to spread the ball around to guys like Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton, but so far this season, the only thing the Bears have proven to do well is get the ball to Robinson. That absolutely has to change on Sunday. 

Miller feels primed for a breakout game after ditching his shoulder harness, while Gabriel is back from a concussion suffered on the final catch of his explosive three touchdown game in Week 3 against Washington. Those two guys need to show up, and the Bears need to better scheme plays for Cohen, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per touch — lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains calling the plays. 

Robinson still could have a productive day — he’s that good — but the Bears shouldn’t count on it.

2. Hold your own against the Saints’ front. 

The Saints are outstanding at affecting quarterbacks without blitzing, with their 76 pressures ranking second in the NFL — this for a team that’s only blitzing on 22 percent of its defensive snaps. And of those 76 pressures, 63 have come from defensive linemen. 

Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have been monsters this year, combining for eight sacks while consistently generating that pressure off the edge. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will need need to have their best games of 2019 to keep them away from Mitch Trubisky, but the interior of the Bears’ line will have its hands full, too. David Onyemata, Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins all have at least one sack, putting an onus on Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward and/or Ted Larsen to keep those guys out of Trubisky’s face.

If not, Trubisky will have a difficult time getting comfortable and going through his progressions, which could lead to some forced/panicked throws...which could be jumped by Lattimore or another one of the Saints' defensive backs.   

3. Get game-wrecking plays on defense.

The thought here is Sunday’s game will be a tight defensive battle, with the game swinging on which team gets a turnover deep in its opponent territory. For the Bears, that means coming up with the kind of game-wrecking play (or plays) we’ve come to expect from this defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked on only 16.7 percent of his drop-backs (24th, per PFF), though, with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead among the best pass blockers at their position in the NFL. It’ll be a fascinating matchup for Khalil Mack, who will need to be at his best to beat the Saints’ best and “sack the football,” as he’s so good at doing. Or maybe Sunday is time for Eddie Jackson to get his first interception of the season (though he’s only been thrown at about two times per game, down from his average of nearly three times per game in 2018). 

However the Bears’ defense does it, they need to do it in a game in which their offense very well could struggle to move the ball. 

Prediction: Saints 13, Bears 9. 

While the Saints will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, star do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara and reliable tight end Jared Cook, this is a team should have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense (the Bears, of course, will be without Akiem Hicks and might start a greenhorn at right guard in Coward). That advantage matters greatly in close games, in which grinding out a few yards here and there will become critical, especially in the fourth quarter.

And too, Sean Payton has built a strong coach of the year case for how he’s guided the Saints to an undefeated record without Brees. The Saints are playing a strong brand of complementary football, with a ball security-based offense and a defense that’s progressively got better this year (punter Thomas Morstead, for what it’s worth, is outstanding and shouldn’t be completely overlooked). 

So the Saints will arrive at Soldier Field undermanned, but with an advantage at the line of scrimmage and on the sideline. And those will be enough for New Orleans to emerge with a win, sending the Bears to 3-3 in the process. 

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