Bears

Moon: Bears shufflin' through practice squad

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Moon: Bears shufflin' through practice squad

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 11:04 a.m. Updated: 1:15 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
Its 9 oclock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles inPiano Man, Billy Joel

Its a few more than just the usual crowd, as you might suspect.

You just knew this is something big when a couple of guys in really nice suits showed up to place the shined, unscratched Bears and Packers helmets on a cloth-covered table in front of the Halas Hall auditorium podium, and the National Football Conference Championship backdrop screen was in place early.

And then about 11:15 a.m. a league official with a very official-looking hard case comes in, opens the case, puts on white gloves, and takes out the Halas Trophy for display with the two team helmets.

The Halas Trophy on display at Halas Hall. ... Its appropriate.

The crackle was almost audible Wednesday as the national and even international media began pulling in. Actually the crackle was audible; its called static, and getting wires pulled and cables hooked up in sub-freezing temps was causing a bit of it.

And as for media turnout? I asked one Bears staffer what the number of credential requests was looking like. His simple answer was better than any figure: Infinity.infinity.

Rostering

Bears-Packers doesnt mean that normal business stops at Halas Hall. The Bears shuffled their practice squad Wednesday, adding linebacker Patrick Trahan and terminating the contract of wide receiver Rashaun Greer.

Best guess is that they need more bodies at linebacker to run the Green Bay 3-4 defensive scheme in practice for the Bears offense.

Earlier the Bears had signed quarterback Matt Gutierrez to a reservefutures contract, lining him up for work with the Bears this offseason. Gutierrez was an emergency addition last training camp when Caleb Hanie went down with a shoulder injury.
Not impressed

The Halas Trophy (Ive chronicled the arrival here) that the Bears won in 1985 (the game was in 86) was nicer than the one theyre using now. The oldn had an elegant wood base with, I believe, a glass football as the main element.

This new one (an NFL official just told me this is the first year for it) is very high-tech looking, chrome, a sorta-football with four strips of the chrome forming the football.

Jay-Birding

Jay Cutler has not had his best games against the Green Bay Packers. Far from it. The Bears quarterback has faced the Packers five times, four as a Bear, and has a combined passer rating of 65.0, with 5 TD passes and 9 interceptions.

Three of his four Bears games against Green Bay have been losses. His one passable (pun intended) Chicago performance came in the first meeting this year when he posted a rating of 82.5. He delivered a 95.7 mark in a loss as a Denver Bronco but that was in 2007 before the Packers completely overhauled their defense and its staff.

Notably for current purposes, that Denver game was the only one in which he has not thrown an interception against the Packers.

Last year we had an entirely different scheme, Cutler said. The last time we played them they did a lot of different things to disrupt our passing.

If Cutler plays well and the Bears win, hell never buy another drink in Chicago. But the history of a moment can be a burden at a time when he and teammates dont need any more on their minds plates than is already there.

Itll be tough with all the preparation, Cutler said. Weve got to keep our mind on the game with all the other stuff going on.

Everyone in the locker room knows whats at stake in this game but were going to enjoy it, were going to play our game, going to be loose and just focus on that.

More than perhaps at any press meeting this year, Cutler seemed to be enjoying himself. He looked directly at questioners as they were posing their queries, smiled repeatedly at various points and was visibly at ease.

Its fun to be in this rivalry in this position, Cutler said.

Funny thought

The high-tech Halas Trophy is probably polished chrome (a league official is checking on exactly what its made of) but Peggy Kusinski had the best guess on its composition: If its the Halas Trophy, its probably nickel, Peggy said, with a deft reference to Papa Bears throwing nickels around like manhole covers, attributed to Mike Ditka.

Looking at time

Linebacker Lance Briggs was in this position four years ago when the Bears were a game away from a Super Bowl they ultimately reached with a win in Soldier Field. This time feels different.

That was a first time, Briggs said. You dont know what to expect. I had to drive all the way downtown for press events put on a big suit. This time were playing a very familiar foe and its in Soldier Field again. So really it just having been through the experience.

The Bears defense has a number of key members (Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije) past the age of 30 but that doesnt make this into a last-chance kind of thing as far as Briggs is concerned.

Im 30, not dead, Briggs said. I dont how many years Ill play but Im going to enjoy it.

Briggs acknowledged the locker room was sour after Peppers was signed and the Bears released defensive end Alex Brown. Not because of Peppers, Briggs corrected quickly. Because of Alex being released.

Running man
When Matt Forte has gotten the ball, the Bears have gotten wins. They were undefeated (6-0) in games where Forte had 17 or more carries. Its just that simple.

Its not that simple, Forte said, smiling. But he did note that if we get more carries, it allows the running back to get in rhythm and it helps the offensive line get into a rhythm as well.

The mild-mannered running back will leave any Bears-Packers venom to somebody else this week. As far as hating the Green Bayites, I think thats more for the fans to do that, he said. I dont really hate anybody. I just concentrate on going out there and playing good football.

Forte has played six games against the Packers, with only modest success. He has average 3.6 yards per carry and scored just once. Oddly perhaps, he averaged 2.6 yards per carry in the Game 3 win but 6.1 in the final-game loss at Green Bay.
The biggest Bears-Packers names

A number of famous Bears and Packers names will be popping up all week. Coach Lovie Smith started with two of the biggest Wednesday.

Im sure George Halas and Vince Lombardi are pretty pumped up about their teams this week, Smith said.

Since beating Green Bay was his first stated goal when he was hired, and winning the Super Bowl was the third and final goal, this game is particularly appropriate as far as Smith is concerned.

No matter where you are, there is always a team you have to beat, Smith said. To have to beat the Packers to get to the Super Bowl, our ultimate goal, is the way it should be.

Smith thought this team was the best he has had since coming in as Bears coach and said so to anyone who was interested in listening. That the Bears werent expected to be a factor, and certainly werent expected to be where they are right now, has at times amused Smith. And on another level, it wasnt particularly amusing.

Its definitely been a part of what weve dealt with this year, Smith said, then pulled back to look at the bigger picture. Its hard to see how a team would be an underdog in the playoffs.
Dont over-think it

The NFC Championship will be the third time in 2010 that the Bears and Packers will see each other. It is the third time they have prepared for each other, watched film on each other, prepared for the football games and mind games.

It can be possible, coordinator Mike Martz said, to over-think your game plans in these situations.

The mistake in these situations can be assuming that the opponent knows more about you than they do, Martz said. I think you have to be very careful of it. If youre not careful you can get away from why youre there in the first place and do some things that you didnt need to do.

The final regular-season game is one that Martz probably hopes the Packers study in detail. Because that game was not one that Martz will put on his Bears resume.

In a game with no meaning in the standings for the Bears, Martz called 45 pass plays, 6 of them resulting in sacks of Jay Cutler, and only ran 20 times, albeit for 110 yards.

I did not do a good job of calling the game at all, got away from some things we do well, Martz said. It was uncharacteristic of who we are. You go back and look at some of the things you did in that game and try to correct them.

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.

Bears TE situation reaching crisis point, leaving offense virtually short-handed

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USA Today

Bears TE situation reaching crisis point, leaving offense virtually short-handed

While attention has focused on troubles with the offensive line in the search for what’s wrong with the Chicago Bears offense, a situation elsewhere is approaching crisis proportions, one with implications in all phases of an offense struggling to find an identity, not just yards and points.

Tight end.

Legendary offense architect Bill Walsh wrote and often said that the tight-end position was a little-understood but hugely significant key to his West Coast concepts, ideally a player who was a built-in mismatch working the seams of a defense and a force blocking in the run game.

“They move around and do a lot of different things,” said coach Matt Nagy. “So it gives you an advantage to be able to get, ‘what defense are they going to play in? Are they going to play sub? Are they going to play base?’ That's where the cat-and-mouse part comes in as coaches every week.”

For the 2019 Bears, tight end has been more mouse than cat, however.

For a variety of reasons, the tight end position – or rather, “positions,” since the Bears have used roster spots on five different ones through just five games already – has become a sinkhole. The absence of production and impact is approaching the levels from the days when Mike Martz ruled as offensive coordinator and relegated the position to irrelevance, getting Greg Olsen out of town and ushering in Brandon Manumaleuna in.

But while Walsh descendants Sean McVay in Los Angeles, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson (Zach Ertz) and Andy Reid in Kansas City (Travis Kelce) continue to operate top-10 offenses with tight-end impact, the offense of Matt Nagy has gotten next to nothing approaching that despite the organization having invested draft and financial capital and roster spots in the position.

None of the five tight ends who’ve cycled through this season has more than Trey Burton’s 11 receptions. No tight end has delivered run or pass blocking; quite the opposite in fact.

It is a new problem for Nagy, who saw Philadelphia tight ends average nearly 60 receptions and a half-dozen TD’s per season over his last four years as an Eagles assistant under Reid. In Kansas City, the offense of which Nagy was a part averaged more than 96 tight-end receptions over Nagy’s final four seasons there.

Far behind the NFL curve

Whether the problems have been talent, injuries (offseason and in-season), quarterback change or a combination, the Bears are effectively playing a man short on offense with their tight end crisis.

Ten NFL tight ends have by themselves currently as many or more receptions as the Bears five tight ends combined (22).

Austin Hooper  Falcons    42

Darren Waller  Raiders    37

Mark Andrews Ravens    34

Zach Ertz          Phila.        33

Evan Engram   Giants       33

Travis Kelce     Chiefs       32

George Kittle    49ers        31

Will Dissly         Seahawks        23

Jason Witten    Cowboys 22

Greg Olsen       Panthers  22

Twenty-nine tight ends have as many or more receptions as Burton. Two teams (Houston, Tampa Bay) have two tight ends with more than Burton’s 11. The Baltimore Ravens, including Andrews, have three.

Delanie Walker Titans      21

Gerald Everett Rams        20

Tyler Higbee    Rams        16

Jared Cook      Saints       15

Darren Fells     Texans     15

Tyler Eifert        Bengals   15

TJ Hockenson Lions        15

Jimmy Graham Packers  14

Vance McDonald Steelers 14

Jack Doyle       Colts         14

James O’Shaughnessy Jaguars 14

Noah Fant        Broncos   14

O.J. Howard     Bucs 13

Geoff Swaim    Jaguars    13

Jordan Akins    Texans     13

Hayden Hurst   Ravens    13

Cameron Brate Bucs        12

Hunter Henry   Chargers  12

Nick Boyle        Ravens    11

Bears

Trey Burton               11

Adam Shaheen        7

Ben Braunecker       2

J.P. Holtz                   2

Bradley Sowell 0      

Burton’s $8 million average annual cost ranks eighth among tight ends, according to numbers compiled by Overthecap.com and Sportrac.com.

Burton was fourth among Bears with 54 receptions last season, six for touchdowns. But he was inactive for the playoff loss because of a reported groin strain, a sports-hernia injury that required offseason surgery. He suffered a second, unrelated groin injury early this season.

Shaheen was set back by injuries annually (chest in 2017, foot/ankle in 2018, back in 2019) but is now approaching “bust” status, a second-round draft choice who has played more than half the snaps only once in his 24-game, three-year career.

Braunecker has been a four-phase special teams player. Holtz was a free-agent pickup who has seen spot duty. Sowell, a converted tackle, has played 11 total snaps in what to this point has been a failed position change.

For the Chicago offense, no tight end has secured the position and the offense has suffered for it.

“It's a very important position,” Nagy insisted, “because in our offense, Trey [Burton], for example, that's our ‘adjustor.’ It's not just the Saints or anybody else. If you go ‘Tiger,’ or ‘12’ (one back, two tight ends) personnel, are [the defenses] going to go base or nickel? So that's where that piece comes in. With Trey, he's able to do well vs. man and well vs. zone so it just helps us out.”

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Bears, Anthony Miller need to better harness talented wide receiver's skillset

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USA Today

Bears, Anthony Miller need to better harness talented wide receiver's skillset

After dropping a third down pass on the Bears’ first drive of the second half in Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders, Anthony Miller did his best Chris Sale impression and took a blade to part of his uniform. 

Well, sort of: Miller had his shoulder harness cut off. He felt it was restricting him to a point that he dropped what was a catchable pass from Chase Daniel, and after it, he hauled in a season-long 32-yard catch that was a significant moment in the Bears’ furious third quarter comeback. 

“I couldn’t reach all the way,” Miller said. “So I cut it off and ended up playing better after that.”

He added: “My harness is gone the rest of the year.”

It was a bit of a revelation that Miller was still even wearing the harness after he underwent offseason shoulder surgery. He described it as “precautionary” and said he wore the harness from training camp through early in the third quarter of that game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

Miller wore a harness for a period in college and did after he dislocated his shoulder for the first time with the Bears in Week 3 of the 2018 season. Miller had an encouraging rookie season in spite of the impairment, leading the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns. 

So the harness may not fully explain why Miller has been, outside of one play, largely invisible in the Bears’ offense this year. In five games, he’s been targeted 15 times, catching eight of those throws for 80 yards without a touchdown. 

Miller, too, has looked frustrated and undisciplined at times. He's been flagged three times this year, representing half of the penalties assessed to the team's wideouts. That total is the third-highest on the team, too, behind left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (8) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (4). 

Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, though, said Miller has been more disciplined in terms of the details of the Bears’ offense — where he lines up, how deep to run his routes, etc. — and positioned his passion as a good thing. 

“I would never trade his desire and his passion for success in a football game with anybody,” Furrey said. “He's got it. We knew that obviously when we drafted him coming out of Memphis, what type of football player he was and how much this game really meant to him and how passionate he was about it. He's not shy about wanting the football.”

For Miller, he’d ideally get a few passes thrown his way early in a game to generate a spark not only for him, but for the offense. Sunday’s game against the Saints may be a good opportunity for the Bears to get Miller the ball early and often, too, given the expectation that New Orleans will use stud cornerback Marshon Lattimore to try to take away Allen Robinson. 

“It’s like, just the momentum for me,” Miller said. “It feels like I’m in the game, it feels like I’m involved. Just like that, if I get the ball, I’m in a better groove.”

Whatever the solution, the Bears need more out of Miller. The explosiveness, the route running ability, the passion, the work ethic — these are all things the Bears liked about him when Ryan Pace traded back into the second round a year and a half ago to draft him. 

For a lagging offense, having him step up wouldn’t solve everything — but it would be part of the solution this Bears team needs. 

“I just feel like something’s coming where I’m going to have to play a huge role,” Miller said, “and I’m gonna be prepared.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.