Player Spotlight: Brandon Marshall

Brandon Marshall, or “Machine Marshall” as he likes to call himself, is Wide Receiver entering his third year with the Bears, and his ninth year in the league overall. The Bears acquired Marshall prior to the 2012 season from the Miami Dolphins for 2 third round picks.

Marshall was reunited with Quarterback Jay Cutler, whom he played with for 3 seasons in Denver. He reconnected immediately with his Quarterback shattering every Bears receiving record, and becoming the first Bears WR to be voted to the Pro-Bowl for the first time since 2002. He was also voted the Pro-Bowl MVP in 2012.

The Bears were able to get the sometimes troubled receiver for a relatively cheap price due to his numerous run-ins with the law. In 2011 Marshall was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and was able to stay out of trouble since being diagnosed and on medication. The only trouble Marshall has recently been in was being fined by the league last season for wearing bright green cleats during a game, in support of Mental Health Awareness Week. He was fined $5,250 which he matched in a donation to Mental Health Charities.

Marshall is one of only 3 receivers in NFL history to have over 100 receptions in 5 or more seasons.

Marshall is known as a very emotional player, something that he has been able to get under control as he has gotten older, and he uses his emotions to motivate other younger players to become better players. This is the second offseason that Marshall has taken the Bears younger receivers to Miami to train together and become better. Second year receiver Alshon Jeffery attributed his break out second season to the extra work he did with Marshall in the offseason. Jeffery and Marshall both represented the Bears in the Pro-Bowl last season.

Brandon Marshall has been in the league for nine seasons and has never had the opportunity to play in the playoffs. With him entering his final season under contract with the Bears he is extremely motivated to finally make the post season. All the pieces are in place for Marshall and the new and improved Bears offense seems poised to make that happen in the 2014 season.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can the Bears Defense Rebound?

The 2013 Chicago Bears defense was a complete dumpster fire. Suffering major injuries to multiple players, and being forced to start inexperienced rookies, sent a perennial top 10 defense into a downward spiral, finishing statistically as one of the worst in the team’s proud history.

It was the perfect storm of under-achieving, and inexperience that caused GM Phil Emery to use this offseason to begin overhauling this aging defense.  By releasing Julius Peppers and his albatross of a contract, Emery was able to secure two young defensive ends in Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.  With the lackluster play of the Safeties last season, the choice to let Major Wright walk was a no brainer. Bringing in former NY Giant Ryan Mundy, and former Packer M.D. Jennings will be an immediate upgrade in the safety position.

Most of the national critics agree that the free agent signings, coupled with bringing back both starting corner backs, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, will bring immediate improvement to the unit that has carried this team for the better part of 10 seasons.

The Bears and Emery know that the window on the current defense is closing, and most experts agree with the offensive weapons the Bears possess and the offensive genius of Coach Marc Trestmans, which produced the 2nd highest scoring offense during the 2013 season, the Bears feel that if they can only field a defense that can finish in the upper 1/3 of the league, they have a real shot at making a deep run into the playoffs.

Only time will tell if these signings are the answer, things change on a week-to-week basis, injuries happen, altering the course of each and every team. GM Emery has done his job; he has spent the team’s money wisely. Now it is time for the coaching staff and the players to finally bring a Super Bowl back to one of the greatest football cities in the nation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bears Re-sign Tillman, Lose Peppers to Division Rival

As the fourth day of free agency has come and gone, there has been some big news for the
Bears and former players. Two of the big names from the shredded Bears defense were Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers. As day four closed, one of them has remained with the team and one has signed with a division rival.

First the bad news, news broke early this morning that Julius Peppers has signed a 3 year deal with the hated Green Bay Packers. The news was first reported on Twitter by ESPN’s Josina Anderson. With Peppers signing a 3 year contract worth up to $30 million dollars with incentives, if he plays all three years will be determined, but he is guaranteed $7.5 million with the deal.

When the Bears released him, it was never expected that Peppers could end up with their bitter division rivals. As Bears fans are looking at it, Peppers is a player who has slowed up each year with his sack totals decreasing every year. He is also the player that couldn’t quite get to Aaron Rodgers on the final play in last year’s heartbreaking week 17 loss to the Packers that sent them into the playoffs as NFC North champions, and sent the Bears home for the offseason. The Packers see this as getting a multiple Pro-bowl player, who will be motivated to punish the Bears for making the mistake of cutting him. In a rivalry that does not need any more spice; the Packers have just added a huge Habanero to this party.

Now for the news that all Bears fans have been waiting for, the Bears have resigned Charles “Peanut” Tillman to a 1 year deal.  Tillman, who is the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, an award to recognize a players contributions to his community off the field, he is the fifth Bears player to with the award named for the great Chicago Running Back.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/chicago-bears/0ap2000000321704/NFL-Honors-Charles-Tillman-wins-Walter-Payton-Man-of-the-Year

Tillman only played 8 games last year, but was productive in causing 6 turnovers in those games. “His 36 interceptions rank third in franchise history and he owns club records for interception return yards (675), interception returned for touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine)” (ESPNChicago.com).

Bringing back one of the true gentleman to play the game was important to the Bears fans, and Tillman not only brings leadership to what is sure to be a young Bears defense, but also a tenacity that will be a good example to those young players that will be blessed to learn from a veteran player, who may be able to teach them a thing or two about his famous “peanut punch”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day 2 Free Agency: Where is Tillman and Melton?

As the book closes on the second full day of free agency, every NFL team has tried to make moves to bolster their teams, as well as try to cover the losses of their particular free agents to other teams.

As of now the Chicago Bears have signed a total of 6 free agents from other teams: Lamarr Houston (Raiders), Ryan Mundy (Giants), Jorden Senn (Panthers), M.D. Jennings (Packers), Willie Young (Lions), and Domenik Hixon (Panthers).

The Bears have done a good job addressing various needs with these free agent signings, but some questions still remain on their available free agents, namely Charles Tillman and Henry Melton, both former Pro-Bowl players who would certainly provide a huge boost to that ailing defense.

Speculation was that Tillman would join former Bears coach Lovie Smith, now the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  With the Bucs releasing Darrell Revis, the team was in need of a new number 1 corner, and Tillman would certainly be the man in Smith’s defense.  “Tillman has traveled to Tampa and met with his former coach, but it is believed that he left without a contract” (ESPNChicago.com).  With the Bucs offering a contract to Alterraun Verner for 4 years at $26 million, it seems unlikely that Tillman will be reunited with his former coach.  It is unknown if Tillman has any other visits scheduled with other teams at this time.

As for DT Henry Melton, coming off a torn ACL, the free agent market was going to be interesting for him. The Bears don’t seem to be in a big hurry to sign him, given the fact he is coming of a major injury, and likely wanting big money. Melton did visit with the Vikings today and sources say that he is staying in Minnesota for the night, which is a sign that the two sides may be working out the details on a deal, although nothing is official yet. The Dallas Cowboys also showed interest in Melton, but no meeting has been scheduled yet.

GM Phil Emery has said on multiple occasions that he would like to have both players back with the team, but it is all contingent on how much money they want and how much the Bears have under the cap. Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Madness of Free Agency has begun.

The frenzy of the NFL free agency period has begun.  The 32 teams throughout the league will be spending millions upon millions of dollars to lure players, in hopes that these players are the missing pieces to the Super Bowl puzzle.  The first 24 hours of free agency are always an exciting and frenzied time, with players signing multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts, as well as players becoming “cap casualties” or, having a high salary that is counting against a team’s cap number.

This year was no exception with the high profile players who were under contract with their respective teams becoming “cap causalities”. Most notably Demarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys, and Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears, two players who will more than likely find themselves in Canton one day. In fact, in this free agency period, the three active sack leaders are all looking for new teams, with Idaho State’s own Jared Allen being the third defensive player looking for a new team as well.

The moves the Bears have made today are none of any real surprise. The move to terminate the contract for Peppers was one that was to be expected, and with a cap number of $18 million, was one that needed to be made.  With the Bears expecting last years starting Free Safety, Major Wright to leave via free agency, the club quickly signed veteran Free Safety Ryan Mundy. The 6-1, 215-pounder has appeared in 80 games with 14 starts over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2009-12) and New York Giants (2013), registering 143 tackles, two interceptions, 10 passes defensed, three fumble recoveries, five tackles-for-loss and one sack (ChicagoBears.com)

The team also got younger on the defensive line with the addition of Lamarr Houston from the Oakland Raiders, who is thought by many to be the best Defensive End available after Michael Bennett re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Houston, a 6-3, 302-pounder appeared in all 64 games with 60 starts over the last four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, recording 226 tackles, 16 sacks, one interception, five passes defensed, 37 tackles-for-loss, four forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries (ChicagoBears.com).

The Bears also re-signed Middle Linebacker D.J. Williams, who was the starting MLB but was lost for the season in week 6 to a torn pectoral muscle.

With former Corner Back Charles “Peanut” Tillman scheduled to visit the Tampa Bay Bucs on Wednesday the Bears still have some holes to fill on what was one of the worst defenses in the league last season.

GM Phil Emery has shown that he is willing to be aggressive in pursuing free agents on day one, and once again he did not disappoint.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Free Agency 2014

The NFL offseason is about to kick into high gear. The race to sign the big name free agent begins on March 11th.  Teams will be fueling up the team planes, rolling out the red carpets, and making their best offers to that big name player, all in the hope that they are not only going to overspend for the particular services of a player, but that the decisions each GM makes will be the one that gets their team to the Super Bowl.

Players too are looking to cash in on that big pay day, knowing that the one thing that makes the NFL different from other sports leagues is that none of the contracts are guaranteed, and the old saying of, what the NFL actually stands for is “not for long”.  The players are looking for a number of things from which team is close to getting to the super bowl, to how their particular skills fit into the individual scheme of the team.

But, before the frenzy and excitement of free agent signing day, comes the difficult days of cutting the fat. Throughout the league over the past week players have been restructuring contracts, singing their franchise tags, and in some cases, have become “cap casualties” and been released outright. This year is no different, with some big, possibly Hall of Fame players being released. From Mike Vick in Philadelphia, to Champ Bailey in Denver to Devin Hester in Chicago, these players illustrate that the NFL is truly a league with very little loyalty. Where staying under the salary cap is the bottom line. Players are used to this process, as it is part of the game, even though they have given their all to the teams for a number of years, teams are always looking to go younger and cheaper.

As far as the Bears are concerned, the release of Hester is not at all surprising. At the age of 31, he is getting up in age for a player who possibly will want $3 to $4 million per year to essentially be a special team’s player. For Chicago, it is a required evil, on one hand the Bears are saying good bye to a dynamic player who in an instant could single handedly have a game changing punt or kick return, a player who played 8 seasons in Chicago and is currently tied for the all-time lead in returns. Hester was one of the four players on the Bears roster from last year that was also on the 2007 Super Bowl team. Along with Charles “Peanut” Tillman who is a free agent will be playing in a different color jersey at the start of the 2014 season, thus, leaving Linebacker Lance Briggs (whose contract expires after the 2014 season) and Patrick Mannelly (who has 2 years left on his deal) as the 2 remaining players from that 2007 NFC Champion team. Slowly but surely, it is the dawn of a new era at Halas Hall.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Player Spotlight: Julius Peppers

There is not a bigger question facing the Bears this offseason, than what to do with their aging superstar Defensive End Julius Peppers.  Peppers signed a free agent contract with the Bears in 2010 and immediately became a disruptive force on a defense that was already considered by many to be one of the league’s best.  The Bears paid a hefty price to lure Peppers from resigning with Carolina, giving him a six-year contract worth $91.5 million, with $42 million guaranteed in the first three years making him one of the highest paid defensive players in the game. In turn Peppers was voted to the Pro-Bowl in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Coming out of training camp for the 2013 season, Peppers is quoted as saying that he feels 25 years old. As the season progressed Peppers looked more like a player playing at his actual age of 34, totaling career lows in sacks, tackles, and fumbles forced.  There have been many theories as to why Peppers had such a lackluster season, ranging from: nagging injuries, to being constantly double teamed due to the Bears lack of depth on the defensive line. Whatever the reason was Peppers surely did not play like himself in his previous All-Pro years, and certainly did not play like a player set to earn $18.183 million dollars in the 2014 season.

With the rapid demise of the once vaunted Chicago Bears defense, GM Phil Emery is facing some difficult decisions, and one is what to do with his aging Defensive End.  Emery has already made it clear that in order to remain with the team Peppers will need to take a significant pay cut to help a team that currently does not have a lot of cap wiggle room.  Emery and Head Coach Marc Trestman have already stated that the Bears need to get younger and more athletic on the defensive side of the ball, and that does not bode well for Peppers even if he is willing to take that pay cut. In the never ending business of the NFL, it has become increasingly common for teams to cut ties with superstar players, and this may be one of those situations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Beginning of the 2014 Season: The NFL Scouting Combine

The time has come for the annul NFL scouting combine.  Where players from different schools and all positions are invited to show off their individual talents for every coach and GM in the league. It is also the first real opportunity that the media has to cover incoming college players for the first time without the restrictions of the NCAA or the protection of their individual SID (sports information director) from their universities.

The draft is held every year in Indianapolis and it is the one place that aspiring young NFL players can greatly improve or hurt their possible draft position. The draft is essentially a meat market where the players are poked and prodded, measurements are taken, and they preform various physical tests such as: the 40 yard dash, which has become the marquee event, the max bench press of 225 pounds, the standing vertical jump, as well as individual drills specific to each players individual position.

As the NFL season is never ending, the draft combine has become not only important for each team to evaluate talent; it has become somewhat of a network phenomenon that the NFL Network will broadcast all the events from every single day.  With much of the focus being on the 40 yard dash, broadcast technology today has taken the seemingly boring event of watching players doing 40 yard sprints, into superimposing one over another and comparing them head to head. In fact, it is so popular that the face of the NFL Network, Rich Eisen has run the 40 each of the past 4 years, and this year broke the 6 second barrier for the very first time, prompting him to trend world wide on Twitter.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap2000000328942/Eisen-takes-on-the-40-yard-dash

While evaluating players at the combine is not an exact science, see the Chargers taking Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in 1998, to teams not being impressed with a scrawny QB out of Michigan by the name of Tom Brady. Who was eventually drafted in the 6th round to be a back up in New England.

https://i1.wp.com/theloveofsports.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/tom_brady_nfl_draft_combine_2000.jpg

It does give teams the opportunity to not only see these players in real time but it gives them the opportunity to meet with them face to face and see who these players really are. Every GM will tell you that the best way to build a contending team is through the draft and finding good players, and the scouting combine is where it all begins.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Player Spotlight: Devin Hester

There are many questions surrounding the various free agents that the Chicago Bears need to wrap up in the off season. None is more intriguing than what the Bears are going to do about multiple pro-bowl kick returner, and crowd favorite Devin Hester.

Hester has spent his entire 8 year NFL career electrifying the Soldier Field faithful with his game breaking ability on special teams, and he enters this off season as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) for the first time in his career.  At the age of 31, and with no real position other than that of a kick/punt returner the options for Hester are limited, and with a salary of $1.9 million last year not many teams are going to want an aging player that is going to try and command that type of salary.

From his rookie season in 2006, where Hester burst on the scene with 6 total return touchdowns, to his spectacular opening kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI, Hester has been a force to be dealt with, causing many teams to avoid kicking to him altering the all-important field position battle that can often times dictate the direction of the game in the NFL. Seeing how dynamic of a player Hester could be, the offensive mastermind that was then Coach Lovie Smith, tried to convert Hester into a number 1 wide receiver, and in the process impeding his progress and growth as the most dynamic returner in the game. After two seasons of no return touchdowns, the coaching staff finally realized they were losing too big of an asset on special teams and let Hester focus solely on the return game.

Hester is 1 touchdown away from breaking the all-time return record of 20 a record that was almost broken in week 14, but was called back on a questionable holding penalty.  Hester has gone on record saying that he would love to break the record as a member of the Bears, but for that to happen he would have to be willing to take a deep home town discount for the Bears to consider that.

It seems that both sides would like to come to some sort of an agreement that would keep Hester in the Windy City for at least another season for a shot at that record. The question is how deep of a discount is Hester willing to give in order to achieve his goal of breaking this record as a member of the Bears.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Grizzly Look Back at the 2013 Bears Defense

 

The Chicago Bears have some major defensive decisions to make this offseason. Once the unit that could be counted on to come up with the critical third down stop, or to come up with a the game changing turn over, has become the weak link on what many considered to be a playoff caliber team. The 2013 Bears defensive, for lack of a better term, was a complete train wreck. A defense that oozed yards by the dozens each and every game coming down the stretch.  Before the debate would be “how many yards will the defense hold the opposing running back to,” toward the end of the season, the question more frequently asked was “do you think the defense can hold this running back to under 200 yards.” Yes it started to get that bad for the once proud Bears defense.

 

Of course there are many variables that come into play when you’re talking about any NFL team, change of coaches, new players, and injuries all play a factor in how each and every team performs during the season. The Bears were not immune to any of those factors this past year, from the loss of future what is sure to be is future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, to injuries to Pro-Bowl players from 2012: Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, and Henry Melton, who missed a combined 28 games last season, not to mention the games missed by starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams.  With the Bears defense beaten and battered, the 2013 season they surrendered the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards in franchise history and rushing yards (2,583). That is inexcusable considering this is a team with a deep tradition of having strong defensive play.

 

All is not lost, and with the end of a new season comes the new hope that GM Phil Emery can figure out what is wrong with this unit and hopefully fix it via signing a key free agent or two, by drafting players that can come in and contribute immediately, and hoping that some of the injured players can come back and play up to the potential that they have shown in the past. Whatever needs to be done it needs to be done relatively quickly, the Bears finally have the offensive weapons to rival Green Bay, and if they are able to put together even a middle-of-the-road type of defensive campaign in 2014, this should be a team that could challenge the Packers for the division and also make a deep run into the playoffs.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment