Bears

Bears: Kyle Fuller, absent Matt Forte get 2015 Brian Piccolo awards

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Bears: Kyle Fuller, absent Matt Forte get 2015 Brian Piccolo awards

Coming off not only one of the best seasons for a Bears rookie defensive back but also a smooth settling in on the cadence of NFL life, cornerback Kyle Fuller has been selected as the Bears’ 2015 Brian Piccolo Award winner.

Matt Forte, who won the rookie award in 2008, joined a handful of players (Mike Singletary, Shaun Gayle, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Olin Kreutz) to win the award as both rookie and vet. Forte did not attend the presentation ceremony and appears headed for a holdout, at least from voluntary activities, intended to create leverage for an early contract extension.

The awards reflect teammates’ assessments of loyalty, courage, sense of humor and dedication.

Coach John Fox recalled watching “Brian’s Song” as a teenager when the movie first came out. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said that the Piccolo story “grabbed the country.”

On the field Fuller tied with safety Ryan Mundy for team honors and led all NFL rookies with 4 interceptions, with Fuller also contributing 3 forced fumbles. Fuller was one of only two NFL players (Detroit safety James Ihedigbo) last season and one of only six rookies in the last 25 NFL seasons with at least three each of interceptions and forced fumbles.

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“None of this would have been possible alone,” Fuller said, giving thanks to God, family, the Bears organization and teammates for his successes. The award reflects courage, hard work and other traits, “and these were things I worked hard at growing up,” Fuller said.

Forte, in the process of seeking a contract extension going into this last season of his 2012 four-year deal, set an NFL record for running backs with 102 pass receptions (for 808 yards) last season to go with 1,038 rushing yards. His 1,846 combined yards were eighth-highest in franchise history, behind six seasons of Walter Payton and Forte’s own 2013 total of 1,933 yards.

“Growing up as a Bears fan, I know what this means to this [McCaskey] family,” said Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who did the Forte award presentation. “Matt being a second-time award winner, winning as a rookie, we’re looking forward to working with him.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.