Bears

How will Bears O-line shake out against Falcons?

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How will Bears O-line shake out against Falcons?

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 10:30 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Its really kind of difficult to tell whether Jay Cutler is pleased with or has serious reservations about his offensive line going into a game that matters.

Were going to have a few bumps in the road, Im sure this year, with those guys, probably the first game, Cutler said. Just getting them settled down and comfortable. But I have all the faith in the world in them. Theyre a very talented group. Got some older guys and some younger guys. Theyre going to have to learn as they go.

But theyre all weve got, so we got to go with them.

Not a complete hug, but

In any case, you do have to love the simplicity of a rookie.

Gabe Carimi was the Bears No. 1 move since the end of last season to address the offensive line. The only move, really, other than signing backup center Chris Spencer.

Now Carimi is just a matter of hours away from starting to truly show whether the Bears money and first-round draft choice was well spent. Hell face Atlanta Falcons defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards, who accounted for 21 sacks in 2010, Abrahams 13 with the Falcons and Edwards 8 with the Minnesota Vikings on the other end from Jared Allen.

As the Bears do with Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers, the Falcons flip-flop their ends. Carimi has a simple approach to his first NFL game, not obsessing with the details.

Im going to be cool and collected, Carimi said. Thats my plan.

Line coach Mike Tice would like the same mindset for his whole unit. The offensive line has been perhaps the most scrutinized area of the Bears since the middle of the 2010 season. It was during the draft, training camp and it still is.

The Atlanta offense has firepower, starting with quarterback Matt Ryan and including running back Michael Turner and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. But the Falcons, while ranking just 27th in passing yards allowed and rushing average, ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed.

They play hard, play fast, and theyre really disciplined, said Chris Williams, at left guard now but at right tackle in 2009 when the Bears faced the Falcons.

Center Roberto Garza has more years of experience (10) than the other four offensive line starters combined (6). But the same five were intact for the opening snap of every preseason game except for Garza being given the night off against Cleveland.

Sick bay

The Bears had the good fortune last season to face a number of opponents who were without a key player or two. The Atlanta Falcons are without starting center Todd McClure Sunday, a situation that the Bears need to exploit to get disruption of the Atlanta run game and Matt Ryans pass protection.

Week 2 opponent New Orleans will be without No. 1 wide receiver Marques Colston after he suffered a broken collarbone expected to sideline him for at least four weeks.

But the Falcons will have the advantage of facing a Bears team without Marion Barber, No. 2 on the depth chart, but projected to be a crucial part of the Bears running game and red-zone offense.

Moneyball

Matt Fortes ears unquestionably perked up Saturday. The Minnesota Vikings agreed with running back Adrian Peterson on a seven-year contract worth potentially worth 100 million. More important, the deal reportedly includes 36 million guaranteed, according to ESPNs Adam Schefter.

Peterson, like Forte, was heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Forte has been offered a contract with more than 11 million guaranteed but that was not deemed adequate by the Forte camp. Now, after the deals for Peterson and Tennessees Chris Johnson (56 million, 30 million guaranteed), the market for Forte would appear to have taken a significant tick up.

Just mentioning

The Green Bay Packers are the gimme pick to do great things again in 2011. But the NFC has had 10 different champions in the last 10 years. As Im noted before, only four of the last 10 Super Bowl champions even won their division the following season

Fun to see this week that Rex Grossman was being named as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins. The last time the Atlanta Falcons played in Soldier Field (2005) marked the return of Grossman, whod missed the first 13 games of the season with an injury.

He replaced Kyle Orton at halftime, a move that a former Bear told CSNChicago.com the players were not behind, believing that Orton had gotten them to a good place even as a rookie, and some felt that the Bears wouldve done better than lose in the first round of the playoffs with Orton instead of Grossman.

Which also is a reminder that Lovie Smith and the Bears have had four winning seasons in the past six and done it with three different starting quarterbacks (Grossman, Orton, Jay Cutler).

And finally

The concern that the Bears cannot score with the apparent class of the NFC the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and, of more immediate relevance, the Falcons isnt a good enough reason to pick against a team that has traditionally opened its seasons well under Lovie Smith.

Too much attention is being paid to comparing the Bears offense to Atlantas, which is never completely relevant (Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers -- ? theyre never on the field at the same time). What is relevant to me is that running back Michael Turner, the No. 3 rusher in the NFC, was held under 50 rushing yards four times and the Falcons lost three of those games.

That isnt a guarantee of success, but it shows that one part of that offense can be shut down, and your chances of winning then rise exponentially.

The NFL has structured its game to support the pass; ironically, if the Bears approach a game with a pass-first mindset against a team with an offense like Atlantas, however, they will lose.

But more than one Bear, including quarterback Jay Cutler, has alluded to the understanding that balance worked for the Bears last year and is expected to again. The Lovie Smith Bears are good learners.

And so

BEARS 21 ATLANTA 20

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.

2020 NFL Combine: Time, TV schedule and how to watch online

2020 NFL Combine: Time, TV schedule and how to watch online

The 2020 NFL Combine on-field workouts kick off Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and with so much pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace to get this year's second-round picks right, the Combine will be even more important than in the past. 

It's true that the underwear Olympics aren't always a good indicator of future NFL success, but Pace and his contingent of Bears scouts and front office decision-makers have to gather as much information, from every clue available, before pulling the trigger on any of this April's draft hopefuls.

With the NFL Combine moving to primetime this year, Bears fans have a greater opportunity to decide for themselves which prospects look the part from an athletic standpoint. Here are all the ways you can catch the drills:

TV: NFL Network
Streaming: NFL.com, NFL Mobile App

Workout schedule

Date: Thursday, Feb. 27
Time: 4-11 p.m. ET
Positions: QB, WR, TE

Date: Friday, Feb. 28
Time: 4-11 p.m. ET
Positions: RB, OL, K, ST

Date: Saturday, Feb. 29
Time: 4-11 p.m. ET
Positions: DL, LB

Date: Sunday, March 1
Time: 2-7 p.m. ET
Positions: DB

The Bears can be aggressive in NFL free agency if they bet on new CBA

The Bears can be aggressive in NFL free agency if they bet on new CBA

If the NFL’s proposed CBA is ratified by the NFLPA — and, right now, it seems like it will be — every current, active contract will look like a bargain in a few years. And that’s the starting point for how the Bears could maybe, just maybe, get a little weird in free agency this year. 

There's always money in the banana stand, after all. 

The Bears are projected to have about $26 million in cap space, per Spotrac, a number that currently would not allow them to sign a big-name free agent or trade for a guy with a high price tag. Cap space can always be created, though — it just depends on how willing a team is to kick the proverbial can down the road. 

And that bill always comes due. But what if the Bears have loads more cap space when the bill comes due thanks to lucrative new TV deals signed a few years after the CBA is ratified?

A new CBA would likely immediately increase 2020's salary cap (the Athletic estimated a $5 million increase per team). But the best way for the Bears to create more cap space in 2020 is by borrowing from the Bank of Khalil. 

The Bears could create about $10 million in cap space by converting some of Mack’s base salary into a signing bonus, per Spotrac, and could also do the same with the contracts of Eddie Goldman, Kyle Fuller, Cody Whitehair and Akiem Hicks, if they so chose. 

The Bears would save a total of about $22.5 million in 2020 cap space by restructuring all five of those contracts. Add in a contract extension for Allen Robinson that could save a few million in 2020 and the Bears wind up with over $50 million in cap space this year. 

That’s a lot of cans to kick down the road, and it’s not without risk (injuries, age-based regression, etc.). It's also crazily aggressive, but who knows what contracts will look like in 2022 or 2023. Paying Mack $26 million then might look like a bargain, even as he plays into his 30s.  

So the money is there if the Bears really want it, and are willing to place a big bet on their 2020 roster. This space of the interweb has mostly been reserved for preaching the Bears’ need for salary cap prudence this offseason; it’s part of the reason why the expectation still is for Ryan Pace to target a backup who can “compete” with Mitch Trubisky, not a guy to start over him. 

But maybe the Bears can shop in a different aisle for that second quarterback. Instead of targeting a Case Keenum-type on a cheap, one-year contract, perhaps the Bears can pry Andy Dalton away from the Cincinnati Bengals and not worry about his $17.7 million cap hit. 

Maybe it means offering a contract to the guard or tight end Pace and Matt Nagy want, not the one they can afford. Needs at inside linebacker, cornerback and/or safety could be more readily addressed before the draft, freeing Pace up to actually stick to his “best player available” mantra. 

There is hope here if you want the Bears to be more aggressive in free agency than their current amount of cap space suggests they will be. That doesn’t mean the Bears are going to follow this path, though. The new CBA needs to be ratified first, of course, and maybe that immediately drives up prices in the free agent market, leaving the Bears in the same position they’re in now. 

But the Bears do have a way to inflate their salary cap balloon, and if they do, they might not need to totally worry about it popping a few years from now. It all depends on if the new CBA is ratified or not before the new league year begins in mid-March. 

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