Bears

NFL Combine: QB's drawing all the questions

395786.jpg

NFL Combine: QB's drawing all the questions

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted: 10:38 a.m. Updated: 2:47 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Mallett left in a huff. Cam Newton held court. Colin Kaepernick might have wondered what he did wrong.

Such was the stuff of Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine here, which is probably about what you should expect from a day of divas (quarterbacks).

Kaepernick, a four-year starter at Nevada, was engaged by a hefty media throng, answering questions from all sides. Then the booming PA voice announced that Mallett, who left Michigan after one year and finished with two strong years at Arkansas, was available at a podium elsewhere in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Gone.

Thats what the Kaepernick media crowd was in roughly 10 seconds as the frenzy turned to Mallett. And on Mallett, as it turned out.

Mallett, already with an immature tag hung on him in some scouting circles, declared that he was not going to answer questions about allegations of drug use. Im not going to talk about that right now, he said to the first question about the rumors, stating that he would talk with teams about the subject if they needed to know (they will, Ryan, trust me).

A short time later, it was pointed out to Mallett that the questions wouldnt go away until he answered them. Well, the questions might not go away, but Mallett did.

Thanks, he said, and walked off the platform.

Newton was a whole lot more comfortable with his questioners, which was nearly everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium. The sea of seats was full long before Newton ever approached the podium, cameras were jockeying for position and angles, and you have to wonder what it will be like if the Heisman Trophy winner actually ever does something on the pro level.

Which hes planning on doing, clearly. He has recently isolated himself in San Diego working with, not one, not two, but three coaches: quarterback, strength & conditioning and speed. Hes working at dispelling the image that he is a spread quarterback and can work from under center and master 3-5-7 step drops.

I was motivated to be great, Newton said.

And speaking of great

Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi declared himself the best lineman in this years draft. Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson has higher ambitions.

Wilson comes out of Illinois, which produced Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus. And what he wants teams at the Combine to know about his game is simply that I have the potential to be one of the best ever, Wilson said. Im very confident in my game.

No, really? Likeable kid, though. Ya gotta love the attitude.

The coach Ron Zook said if you want to be one of those great guys, you have to do whats needed to be great, Wilson said. You have to do what people arent doing. You got to watch more film, youve got to exercise more, youve got to stretch more when youre at home and things like that. I take everything to note and I do those things.

Definitely love that attitude. And Butkus would love the do what people arent doing. Go for it, kid.

Are internal questions lingering for Cutler?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Questions will continue to swirl around Jay Cutler and his torn knee ligament probably until he and the Bears win an NFC Championship game or Cutler reaches some mythical performance feat that absolves him of doubt surrounding his exit in the third quarter of the Green Bay game. Its unfortunate and unfair, but perception is sometimes reality, or at least a reality.

But what Cutler and the Bears cant afford are any questions about the franchise quarterback lingering within his own locker room, and it is sounding like there may be a few.

Jim Trotter, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, has heard the questions from some players and shared those with CSNChicago.com Saturday.

.From players Ive talked to, there are some who were kind of like, Wow, really? What was it? Jim said. Now, theyre not going to come out publicly and say that, but thats the truth and, Im just being honest here, what theyre saying to me.

Jim is an elite national NFL writer, and very often the out-of-town guys will get things that arent divulged to localites. The thing to realize here, as Jim says very strongly, and he did see Bears games last season, is that he personally doesnt buy any notion that Cutler was really just begging out of a game in which he was playing poorly. And he wrote at the time that the criticism of Cutler was unfair.

I dont think you can ever question a guys heart, said Jim, who did not believe any quarterback endured more of a pounding than Cutler did in 2010.

Cutler and the Bears dont have an internal issue here. Indeed, the firestorm after the knee injury, particularly the bashings Cutler took from fellow players via Twitter and other venues, may have been an ultimate positive because the players closed ranks around Cutler.

Brian Urlacher was livid at the critics. Israel Idonije was still angry at the player criticism of Cutler when we talked the night I presented Idonije as Bear of the Year at the March of Dimes even two weeks ago.

And Lovie Smith was visibly upset when reporter asked about the whole Cutler-toughness thing. I talked to players Saturday as well to gauge any suspicions, even anonymously.

But at some point this may need to be addressed, and only internally; what outsiders think of Cutler really doesnt matter. Best guess is that it already has been, if only Smith standing up at a team meeting and demanding that anyone with even a shadow of a question speak up now or forever shut up about it. Which another best guess is that they will.

Cam Newton the Extra-Terrestrial?

About that glowing light on the chests of Cam Newton and two dozen other NFL Combine contestants.

No, it isnt a green version of E.T.s heartlight. Its a new workout apparatus incorporated by Under Armour into a fitted exercise shirt and its being used by Newton and others during the Combine. Heart rate, g-forces (scary to realize think of Newton and friends as generating rocket-sled power but there it is) and other particulars are picked up and can be projected onto a big screen.

Its not available to the general public yet, probably next year. But if it makes me look like Sam Hollenbach (check the video youll understand), Im in line already.

Huh?

Bears tight end Des Clark is dealing with a mess down home in Florida and its a little head-scratching on one level.

Police in Polk County, Fla., seized a rental property that Clark owns in Lakeland because of conduct by bad tenants ranging from suspected drug dealing to prostitution. Whats head-scratching is the rush to judgment by some that this is somehow a reflection on Clark personally.

As hes said, How can anyone think Id condone something like that going on in one of my places? This is someone who grew up in Lakeland, lives there with wife Denise and three kids, and has set up 88 Wayzcq Youth Organization to aid needy children under the dictum, Bridging Gaps, One Youth at a Time. Hes done football camps since 2002 for needy kids and gotten together 600 pairs of football shoes for kids who cant afford them. Heck, he even put together a bass fishing tournament last May to raise money for charity.

Anythings possible, I guess, but Ive known Des for quite a few years now, and if there are many individuals of better character around this business, I havent met them.

Well have full video on these but check out our conversation with National Football Post NFL analyst Matt Bowen regarding the various schemes the Bears employ and what that translates into as far as impact from draft picks and rookies.

Matt, who does superb insider breakdowns of plays, strategies and personnel for NFP, talked with me about the Bears one-gap defensive scheme and how a rookie can have immediate impact in that system. The Bears are looking hard at defensive tackle with that first pick (No. 29) and Matt folds in ideas relating to the 3-4 scheme that indirectly affect the Bears.

Because of the proliferation of 3-4s (nothing like both Super Bowl finalists using it to spur a copycat league that direction), undersized pass-rush linebackers have become premium items in drafts. So have wide-bodies for the nose tackle spot and bigger defensive ends for the edges.

The position that has been targeted less is the three-technique, the defensive tackle shading slightly to a guards outside eye, the Tommie HarrisJohn Randle type. The nose tackle (Anthony Adams) in the Bears scheme is the power point, tying up double teams.

Matt makes the great point that the decreased use of 4-3s and three-techniques can make more of those quality defensive tackles available for the Bears, who have nozipnada intention of veering from a 4-3 to 3-4.

Matt and I also looked at wide receiver and why that position so often has difficulty making an impact early. GM Jerry Angelo eschews investing high picks in wideouts because of the bust factor and Matt adds to that the problem that young receivers have, coming out of college play where coverage is more zone than press man, and they are required to instantly learn and perfect myriad routes instead of the handful that were sufficient against most college defensive backs.
Head case

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, son of former Bear and New Orleans Saint fullback Craig Heyward, on similarities between his father and himself: Using my head. Ive got to stop that. He was taking on linebackersIll be taking on tackles.

Good thought.

Tough assignment

FOXSports.com senior NFL writer and good friend Alex Marvez dropped by for a chat. A.M. and I visited during training camp and he confesses to the 6-10 prediction for the Bears (he wasnt alone on that one). He does an excellent retrospective run-through on the Bears from a national perspective, including some thoughts on how their 11-5 season really played out the way they did.

A.M. also sees the Bears facing a very difficult situation in 011 visavis the Green Bay Packers. Because of the Packers youth (not many teams have hit as consistently as the Packers have on recent high-round draft choices) and the veteran nature of the Bears core, this may be the last good chance for the Bears to overtake their rivals.

Check out the video for our full visit.

Friday was All-Bears All-The-Time for me, with Lovie Smiths contract extension, his podium appearance at the Combine and then an afternoon sit-down with GM Jerry Angelo. So check out Evan Silvas excellent run-through of goings-on at ProFootballTalk.com for a quick look at some of the bricabrac around the Combine.

Ill be doing a Video Mailbag a little later on Saturday so get any questions in and Ill try to get to things.

And Saturday is also going to be right out of that well-known Samuel Beckett play, Waiting for Cam. The Auburn quarterback, an on-going story all year anyway for various reasons, was the story of Friday for not holding a media session. But Newton is scheduled sometime Saturday now so well check back later on that.

Im actually looking forward more to visiting with Illinois Corey Liuget, a junior who some draft experts project as a possible Bears pick at No.29. Corey is viewed as a three-technique fit, something the Bears are looking for as Tommie Harris appears to be pretty well done in Chicago.

Pony up

Itll cost you a little more to see the 2011 Bears in person than it did the 2010 (and dont blame Lovie Smiths new contract; his deal for this season was already in place back in 2007).

The Bears announced price increases for all Soldier Field tickets, the first time for an across-the-board hike in three years. And in the event any games this season are cancelled, refunds will be paid to season ticket holders no later than 30 days after final determination of how many games will be played during the 2011 NFL season.

Non-club seat increases range from 5 to 15. Club seats will be raised from 10 to 30 per ticket. The Bears non-club ticket prices now range from 74 to 140 and account for approximately 85 percent of the seating at Soldier Field. Club seats range from 265 to 530.

Season ticket holders have the option to make their payment online with a MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit card. Payments made by check will continue to be accepted as well. Season ticket holders can log-in to their account and utilize the online payment option by visiting ChicagoBears.com.

The Bears 2011 home schedule includes match-ups against Atlanta, Carolina, Seattle, Kansas City, San Diego and the three NFC North rivals.

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.

Longshot: Bears cornerback John Franklin III, a former 'Last Chance U' star, has a bigger goal in mind

8-19johnfrankliniii.jpg
USA Today

Longshot: Bears cornerback John Franklin III, a former 'Last Chance U' star, has a bigger goal in mind

You might remember John Franklin III as the star-quarterback-turned-backup whose struggles at East Mississippi Community College played out on the first season of the Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U.” So when Franklin commented recently that he eventually doesn’t want to have to introduce himself to others, there was a natural follow-up question: “Don’t people know you already?”

“Yeah,” Franklin said. “I want them to remember me. Not just know me.”

Three years have passed since the self-described “low point” of Franklin’s life played out on Netflix. Since leaving EMCC, Franklin was a seldom-used quarterback at Auburn, then transferred to Florida Atlantic and played wide receiver for a year. The Bears saw potential in his size and raw speed and gave him a shot at playing cornerback a year ago. He wound up sticking on the practice squad during the second half of the season, and now has a legitimate opportunity to make the Bears’ 53-man roster in 2019. 

“I feel like I have every opportunity to make this 53 and I feel like I should make the 53,” Franklin said. “And that’s my only mindset, is to make the 53.”

In the grand scope of the NFL, Franklin’s ascent has been rapid. It’s rare for a player to make the position switches Franklin has over the last two years and stick in the NFL, even on practice squads and training camp rosters. It’s an unforgiving league, one where teams value all 90 spots on their preseason rosters. Potential is one thing, but players have to prove they can reach that potential to stick on a roster. 

Franklin, though, has a bigger goal in mind, one which goes beyond being one of the Bears’ 53 active players after Labor Day weekend. He had the word “legendary” tattooed on his stomach this year to serve as a constant reminder of what he aspires to be. 

“I’m not trying to just be okay,” Franklin said. “… I want to be the best that ever played.”

Franklin acknowledges he has a ways to go to reach that goal, and knows it won’t happen overnight. He also has plenty to prove to make the Bears’ roster. 

Franklin was beat on a couple of throws during the Bears’ preseason game against the New York Giants on Friday, including a 15-yard touchdown allowed to NFL veteran T.J. Jones. He did display good coverage in forcing an incompletion intended for Jones earlier in the game, though, which was more in line with what he did during an overall-solid training camp. 

“He’s a true athlete,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “There’s not many people who can do some of the things he can do. And if he can just continue to get some reps, continue to learn, stay hungry, he’ll be fine.”

Franklin’s athletic profile is one reason why Townsend and the Bears still believe they can mold the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback into a legitimate NFL player. But it’s not the only one: Townsend was keen to note how coachable Franklin is, whether it’s listening to advice, asking the right questions or putting in the work. 

After last season ended, Franklin said he took about a week and a half to decompress before he went back to working on his technique. He did defensive back drills five days a week at Goldfeet Global with Tevin Allen, working to get more comfortable with the position that, if all goes well for him, will be his ticket to the NFL. 

“My breaks now, it’s crazy compared to last year,” Franklin said. “My posture on breaks, I used to sit back, I used to clutch and lean back. And now I’m staying low and coming out. 

“… I really worked on every aspect because even though I’m still new to the position, I’ve had some success, I still feel like I have so much to learn and I still feel like I’m behind the 8-ball.”

Still, Franklin has a much better idea of what he’s doing now than he did a year ago. Getting to practice against wideouts like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller while on the practice squad taught him a lot about his technique while giving him the satisfaction of playing a role — albeit a small one — for a playoff team. He can self-correct mistakes and expects to make plays in practices and games, rather than needing to prove to himself he could stick in coverage and defend passes. 

Franklin’s shot at making the Bears’ roster, then, comes down to two factors: First, he needs to prove he’s the best option among a field of ex-undrafted players like Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and Clifton Duck. If that fails — in this scenario, the Bears likely carry Toliver as their primary backup outside corner, as they did last year — he’ll need to prove worthy of a roster spot based on special teams contributions and potential. That means beating out, say, a sixth defensive lineman, a seventh wide receiver or a fifth outside and/or inside linebacker. 

So while Franklin aims to be legendary someday, he’s still a long shot to make the Bears’ roster. But the 24-year-old is aware of how far he’s come in a year, and believes he’ll eventually be remembered as one of the best cornerbacks to play in the NFL — not just a guy from that show you watched on Netflix. 

“I want to leave a legacy when it’s all said and done,” Franklin said. “Any time somebody says my name, I want them to know that he’s a hard worker, he did it all. I think this is bigger than me. What I do here is more than me. And that’s what it’s all about, leaving a legacy here on this earth playing this game.” 
 

According to multiple sportsbooks, the Bears are the most popular Super Bowl bet of any NFL team

bears_helmet_usa_today.png
USA Today

According to multiple sportsbooks, the Bears are the most popular Super Bowl bet of any NFL team

Credit where credit's due: Bears fans back up their optimism.  

As Year 2 (Or Nagy 202, or The Last Season Before Their Cap Situation Gets Dicey, or whatever you want to call it) begins, it's a safe bet to say that Bears fans are a hopeful bunch. 

And hey, speaking of safe bets, here's an example: according to ESPN, no NFL team has gotten more Super Bowl bets than the Bears. 

On Monday morning, the mothership's David Purdum published a story on how the Bears (and the Browns, but they've gotten enough press and we're not NBC Sports Cleveland) are getting a lot of love from people with spare cash. 

"There are more bets on the Bears to win the Super Bowl than there are on any other team at multiple sportsbooks. The Browns are right behind the Bears in Super Bowl bets. "It's been kind of overwhelming, the support [for the Bears]," said Alan Berg, the senior oddsmaker for Caesars Sportsbook. "Every time the Bears go to the playoffs, the following year, the money just pours in. Everybody gets optimistic."

This, of course, checks out. There is no Trubisky overthrow, no shanked field goal from 38, and no veteran whooping on an undrafted rookie that can sway Bears fans from their steadfast belief that the Bears Are Going To Win The Super Bowl, So Take That Jason La Canfora. 

Need more examples? Without all the forced snark? How about the fact that at one prominent Vegas sportsbook, Bears fans got Trubisky's MVP odds to move 200-1 to 50-1. And are still mad about 50-1! 

Bless Bears fans, and bless their optimism. The lasting burn of Double Doink can only be soothed by jumping on 9-1 while it's offered.