Chicago Bears re-draft: 2010

Yesterday’s 2009 re-draft was rather depressing, but the 2010 re-draft will leave a Bears fan so much angrier. To be honest, this draft ended up being one of the deepest ever. As one will be able to see rather easily, there were Pro-Bowl players that fell far into day three.

3 (75). Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami
Actual Pick: Major Wright, S, Florida
—In fairness to Jerry Angelo, dozens of other general managers passed on Jimmy Graham repeatedly. All of their fans would have Graham on their team re-drafts, too. Graham has turned into probably the best tight end in football. He’s a nightmare for any defensive coordinator. He’s a mismatch against almost any secondary. He would make this current Bears offense the best in football, hands down. Major Wright’s career never quite materialized. He got a lot of playing time in Chicago, but he never really progressed as anticipated. Wright did give the Bears a lot of minutes, but that doesn’t mean those minutes were quality ones.
4 (109). Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Actual Pick: Corey Wootton, DE/DT, Northwestern
—Corey Wootton was a solid pick by Angelo. There was a lot of talk around the draft that the Cowboys really wanted him and were thinking about taking him as high as the second round. Wootton’s career got off to a slow start in part because of injuries, but in the end, Wootton did a lot of positive things in Chicago. His 11 career sacks aren’t very impressive, but he was a good defender against the run and could play anywhere on the line. However, Angelo could have gotten so much more value out of this pick had he selected Geno Atkins. Atkins missed a lot of 2013 because of a torn ACL, but he has proved to be the best pass rushing DT in the game. The Bears could have rotated Henry Melton and Atkins at 3-tech and ultimately decided to keep one. You could bet that they would have retained Atkins.
5 (141). Greg Hardy, DE, Mississippi
Actual Pick: Joshua Moore, CB, Kansas State
— Joshua Moore was always thought of being a potential successor to Charles Tillman, but that never worked out. Moore had ideal size and length, but he never amounted to much in Chicago and last appeared in the league in 2012 with the Broncos. Kam Chancellor was a steal in the fifth round for the Seahawks and has turned into one of the best strong safeties in the NFL. However, no general manager would take a good strong safety over a great defensive end. Prior to the 2010 draft, Greg Hardy was getting a lot of publicity and turned into maybe the most polarizing player in that draft. Somehow, he fell all the way to the sixth round and the Panthers found tremendous value. Last season, Hardy notched 15 sacks which forced Carolina to place their franchise tag on him. Because of Hardy, the Panthers’ defense is one of the strongest units in football, and at his age, he will continue to do his part to keep the Panthers extremely competitive in the NFC South.
6 (181). Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
Actual Pick: Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan
—Maybe Angelo meant to pick the WR from Central Michigan and not the QB. The Bears went with Dan LeFevour, who was eventually signed off of the practice squad by the Bengals. In Cincinnati, he did nothing and then more of the same in Indianapolis. He currently plays in the CFL. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown has turned into a solid #2/#3 wideout in Pittsburgh. Right now, he’s probably the Steelers #1 receiver, which is a problem, but he would be perfect in the Bears’ current offense. Maybe the Bears wouldn’t have drafted Alshon Jeffery in 2012, but Brown, Graham, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall would still be the best set of skill position players the Bears’ organization has ever had.
7 (218). Marc Mariani, WR, Montana
Actual Pick: J’Marcus Webb, T, West Texas State
—Marc Mariani has earned everything in his career. He walked on at Montana and didn’t play that year. He ended up being a returner and a slot receiver for the Grizzlies, but despite a good career there, it wasn’t until round 7 when the Titans finally took a chance on him. Like he did at Montana, Mariani worked his ass off and, when healthy, is now one of the best returners in the NFL. Unfortunately, he has found himself dealing with a few leg injuries. He would have been a cheaper Devin Hester for Chicago, and this city wouldn’t have to have dealt with the ever-aggravating J’Marcus Webb. The Bears got use out of him, but he was a responsible for quite a few near-death experiences for Jay Cutler.

–Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1 on twitter)

Come back and visit the site tomorrow for the Bears 2011 re-draft.

Chicago Bears re-draft: 2009

It’s always easy to look back as a fan at your favorite team’s draft history and think “what if?” Today, and for the next three days as I look back on the Bears’ last four drafts, I will be that fan. It should be known that this is all for fun and that no team could ever possibly have a draft like this one and the next three that I will post as apart of a four-draft series. If teams did have drafts like these, they would be set up for major success for at least the next four seasons.

Unfortunately for Jerry Angelo, he was never given the benefit of the doubt. People easily forget that he drafted a lot of good players (Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester, Matt Forte), signed a few (Julius Peppers), and traded for some (Jay Cutler, Adewale Ogunleye), too. Fans forget that the Patriots, Steelers, Packers and Giants have bad drafts quite often.

Today, we start in 2009. Many remember it as the draft just a few weeks after the Bears traded two first round picks (2009, 2010), a third round pick (2009), and Kyle Orton in exchange for Jay Cutler and a fifth round pick (2009).

**WARNING**: Ok, this year’s draft can actually be laughed at. Jerry Angelo did a pitiful job of selecting new talent for the Bears. Not one of these players is still on the team, just six seasons later.

3 (68). Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
Actual Pick: Jarron Gilbert, DT, San Jose State
—I’m not quite sure what Jerry Angelo was thinking here. There were plenty of future stars on the board at this time, and for whatever reason, he selected Jarron Gilbert; WR Mike Wallace, DT Terrance Knighton, G Louis Vasquez and G Kraig Urbik were all available. A lot of fans, including myself, loved the potential that Gilbert had. However, it’s not our job to find the best possible player for the Chicago Bears and make that pick. It’s the general manager’s, and at that time, it was Angelo’s. Gilbert accounted for just two tackles in his whole career, a career that last saw him on the Jets’ roster in 2010. While the aforementioned names all sound good, the Bears would have greatly benefitted from a player like Michael Johnson across from Julius Peppers the past few seasons. Johnson recently bolted Cincinnati to sign a huge contract with the Buccaneers, and while “Chicago” may have been “Cincinnati” in this case, the Bears would have been a better team with Johnson’s 27 sacks over the last five years.
3 (99). T.J. Lang, G, Eastern Michigan
Actual Pick: Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma
—Angelo never quite believed that a Pro-Bowl WR was a necessity for a Super Bowl caliber football team, but he was obviously lying as chose Juaquin Iglesias in round 3 to be a #1. Just like Gilbert, however, Iglesias was a bust. He recently signed in Finland to play there, where I’m sure he’s finally making Angelo look good. T.J. Lang isn’t the best guard in the league. In fact, he plays on one of the worst offensive lines in football with the Packers. Lang is a decent player who would have been good value with this pick. Had Angelo made that selection and started bettering the offensive line back then, perhaps Jay Cutler wouldn’t have played behind one of the worst in league history to start his Chicago career and lost 15 years of his life.
4 (105). Henry Melton, DT, Texas
Actual Pick: Henry Melton, DT, Texas
—Angelo got one right here. After this draft, it was this pick that actually looked like the most confusing one. Henry Melton was a running back his whole life, and there was just potential on Melton’s behalf to justify this pick. However, Melton turned out to be a very good player. He will play for the Cowboys next season and beyond, but he was once a Pro-Bowl DT in Chicago and was even given the franchise tag one year. Had he not torn his ACL back in week 3 of the 2013 season, he would probably still be donning the navy and orange.
4 (119). Tony Fiammetta, FB, Syracuse
Actual Pick: D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
—D.J. Moore was a solid player for a few years in the Windy City, although he was never more than just a nickelback for the Bears. Moore is one of the nicest people, not just athletes, that I have ever met, but politeness doesn’t get it done on the field. After his career here, he ended up in Carolina and now plays in Tampa Bay. Round four is way too early for a fullback, but Tony Fiammetta has had quality seasons since being drafted. Fiammetta is now the Bears starting FB and was given an extension a few months back.
5 (140). Johnny Knox, WR, Abilene Christian
Actual Pick: Johnny Knox, WR, Abilene Christian
—Johnny Knox will forever be one of the most overrated players in Bears’ history. Knox was a mediocre receiver on a team with a lot of bad receivers. Because of this, he was thought of to be a #1 wideout, but he was never close. Unfortunately, I’ll always think of the 2011 game against San Diego in which they won to extend their winning streak to five games, but during the contest, Knox slipped and it resulted in an interception. Cutler chased down the defensive back, and in the process, broke his thumb which ended his season and the team’s. There weren’t many other options on the board for Angelo, even looking back on it now.
5 (154). Chris Clemons, S, Clemson
Actual Pick: Marcus Freeman, LB, Ohio State
—At the time, I liked this pick. Marcus Freeman fell for what appeared to be no reason after a good college career in Columbus. Freeman never played a down for the Bears and was released in September 2009. He went on to sign with Buffalo and Houston, but he made little impact there, too. Chris Clemons has went on to be a good player in the league. He had five quality seasons in Miami and recently signed with the Texans to compete for a opening spot at safety.
6 (190). Bernard Scott, RB, Abilene Christian
Actual Pick: Al Afalava, S, Oregon State
—Al Afalava had no business ever being more than a special teams player in the NFL, but he did play safety for the Bears. Bernard Scott went on to have a nice career for such a late pick. He would have been a solid back-up for Matt Forte during all of these years where the Bears wasted money on “proven” guys like Michael Bush and Chester Taylor. Scott has averaged just above 4 yards per carry in his last five seasons.
7 (246). Tiquan Underwood, WR, Rutgers
Actual Pick: Lance Louis, G, San Diego State
—Lance Louis ended up being very good value in the 7th round. Louis had some good years with the Bears, but after a dirty block on a turnover by Jared Allen, Louis tore up his knee and was never the same player. He missed all of 2013 for Miami. Tiquan Underwood has been nothing more than a below average player in the NFL, but he can contribute on special teams and occasionally on offense.
7 (251). Ryan Succop, K, South Carolina
Actual Pick: Derek Kinder, WR, Pittsburgh
—Before September 2009 even existed, Derek Kinder was released by the Bears. Kinder had a lot of potential, but he tore his ACL in 2007 when he was still at Pittsburgh. The Bears took a shot on him, but it never quite panned out. Ryan Succop was Mr. Irrelevant in this draft, but he’s still the Chiefs’ kicker. He has made 81 percent of his field goals and has never missed an extra point. In 2009, he made the All-Rookie Team. Robbie Gould is great, but the Bears could have used his extension money elsewhere and wouldn’t have missed a beat on special teams.

Come back tomorrow to see how I would re-draft for the Bears in 2010.

–Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1 on twitter)

Now I AM Excited

Or perhaps the headline should read “thankfully the Bears were


able to sign Michael Bennett. Michael, brother of Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, was purportedly the Bears’ number one target in free agency until he quickly re-signed with Seattle. Would Phil Emery have been able to pull off what he has if he would have given Bennett more money than Seattle offered, which was reported? Probably not.

When Bennett went off the table, Emery quickly signed Raiders free agent defensive end Lamarr Houston. At the time I wasn’t real happy with the decision. I remember in 2000 when the Bears desperately needed a defensive end, and they reached to give run-stopping end Phillip Daniels a $20 million contract. Daniels ended up being a decent stout end for four seasons in Chicago, but never lived up to being paid as a premier pass rusher as he was paid to be. This was my initial concern with Houston. Lots of potential, could blossom, but neither built to be nor has shown the promise as an elite pass rusher.

Since then, Emery and the Bears signed promising young end Willie Young from Detroit, former Bear Israel Idonije, safety Ryan Mundy from the Giants, and re-signed cornerback Charles Tillman to a reasonable one-year deal. Tillman is arguably the face of the franchise. He also was able to re-sign defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, a former Pro Bowler with potential to make a huge comeback.

About 10 days ago, I privately hoped the Bears would make a run at free agent DE Jared Allen. But like a lot of other possibilities (Jay Cutler in 2009, Brandon Marshall in 2012, Jermon Bushrod in 2013), I completely doubted the normally-conservative Bears would make any of these moves. Even when earlier this week the Bears pulled a quick restructure of Cutler’s deal to free cap space, I figured it was just to keep their options open during the season.

But I’ll be damned, they went out and landed Allen. And now I am as excited about a Bears season as I have been since the last Super Bowl run. While it’s granted that Emery’s drafting of Shea McClellin and Brandon Hardin still look like foolish moves, what he has done is taken the weakest areas of the Bears and turned them into strengths in his three offseasons. Chicago’s offensive line and group of receivers were complete jokes when he took over the team. Now the OL is far above average if not great, and receivers Marshall and Alshon Jeffery give Chicago an enviable group. He also made the right decision cutting Earl Bennett, a player I liked but who had been grossly overpaid by Jerry Angelo.

Following the embarrassing 2013 defensive season, now Emery has given the Bears a contending defensive line and solid corners if Tillman can stay healthy, and if nickel corner Kelvin Hayden can regain his 2012 form. The linebacker and safety position groups are still a work in progress. Will the LB corps of Lance Briggs, DJ Williams and Shea McClellin be able to stay healthy and play well enough until sophomores Jon Bostic and Kaseem Green prove worthy of their draft status? Will Mundy prove himself as starting-caliber at safety? Is 2013 scapegoat Chris Conte even in the picture anymore?

Emery’s moves in free agency allow him to truly go after the best players at the top of the draft. Will he take a defensive tackle that would make the Bears’ DL one of the most feared in the league, or finally take a safety that is any more than a stopgap (as the Bears have been playing with for a decade). Or, is there a middle linebacker the Bears could find in rounds two or three that could do a better job taking over for Williams after 2014, allowing Bostic to eventually succeed Briggs?

I can honestly say that if the Bears avoid injuries, they are certainly placed to do big things in 2014. I am already a little worried about their salary cap situation down the road. Marshall and Jeffery are in line for big extensions in 2015 and 2016.

But for now, if the draft lands studs at DT, S and perhaps LB, this Bears team will be scary.

Giving Thanks for Trestman

Something I read about Lovie Smith yesterday morning brought me back to the Smith, and even the Dave Wannstedt regimes. The flexibility shown so far by Marc Trestman and Phil Emery contrast so much with that of Smith and Wannstedt, it’s another reason to be thankful.

I hate invoking the Wannstedt era with the Bears, although over the years I have mellowed somewhat. Wanny is human, he didn’t do a good job in Chicago, life goes on.

Anyway, let’s look back to Wanny’s rookie season in 1993. Wannstedt was the overwhelmingly top head coaching candidate available to teams that year. As much as I fault former team president Michael McCaskey for the malaise he brought to the organization for his 16 years in power, I will always concede that he went after and hired the top candidate that year. (Even if looking back I wish he wouldn’t have fired Mike Ditka).

Wannstedt brought his vanilla, bend-but-don’t-break defensive system with him from Dallas, where it was ultra-successful because he had stud players at all positions that made it work. On offense, he hired Ron Turner to coordinate a west-coast passing game with a power running game. With an aging Neal Anderson (and later that year a resurgent but mentally unfit Tim Worley) and a poor offensive line, the run game took no attention away from the pass. The passing game was to rely on short timing passes with no room for improvisation. Prior to the season, the Bears re-signed Jim Harbaugh to the largest contract in Bears history (five years for $15 million) to run the offense. Problem was, Harbaugh’s skill was his improvisation, making plays with his feet.

The result of Wannstedt and Turner putting Harbaugh’s square peg into the round hole of this offense was one of the quarterback’s lowest passer ratings of his career. He was sacked 42 times, the most of any season in his career, and he threw just seven touchdowns in 15 games to 11 interceptions. Following the 1993 season, after just one year into that blockbuster contract, he was run out of town on a rail by the Bears’ staff and their fans.

I was one of those fans that was “sick of Harbaugh,” not knowing that in a system built around him he could be an elite quarterback. Look what happened just two years later. In Indianapolis coached by Ted Marchibroda and Lindy Infante, he made the Pro Bowl, led the league in several passing categories and took an unlikely team to within a dropped pass of the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh became known as “Captain Comeback” in Indianapolis, but that moniker should have been given to him in Chicago under Mike Ditka and Greg Landry. In 1991 and 1992 Harbaugh almost single-handedly led the Bears to victory at least four times by my count.

To replace Harbaugh the Bears signed Detroit veteran Erik Kramer. Kramer had his share of success, most notably in 1995 when he set individual Bears passing records that still stand. But he was the opposite of captain comeback, rarely being able to seal the deal with a win while driving the team in a game’s final minutes (the 1996 game at Washington and Green Bay in 1997 at home, to think of just a couple).

I’m even going to cut the seemingly-milquetoast Dick Jauron some credit. Jauron may have been too loyal to offensive coordinator John Shoop, but at least he knew when the team needed a drastic change away from former coordinator Gary Crowton’s “razzle-dazzle” scheme. And as abrasive as defensive coordinator Greg Blache was with the fans and media, Blache supported a system change in 2001. After the signing of defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, the focus was on those “800 pounds of ass” to clog the middle and allow MLB Brian Urlacher to clean up.

Then came Lovie Smith. Not to take anything away from his success in taking a team to the playoffs three times following 11 years of ineptitude in the organization. And he did change offensive systems multiple times. From the incompetence of first coordinator Terry Shea, to (again) Ron Turner’s power-running-west-coast system, back to a Shea system with Mike Martz, and ironically then to another incompetent system in his final season with Mike Tice.

But on defense he was inflexible. From 2007-2009 it was clear that injuries and age were catching up with Chicago’s front seven. Smith’s defense is doomed without a pass rush, and in those three seasons his team didn’t have the personnel to make his rigid system work. It had a definite resurgence after Julius Peppers was signed in 2010, but the ’07-’09 teams were a waste.

What this article all boils down to was Lovie Smith’s recent announcement that the team he is taking over in Tampa Bay “wasn’t built for his systems.” (Well of course it wasn’t, he wasn’t there.)

On the one hand I agree that every new coach is entitled to bring in his own systems. But in addition to much of the time being condescending to the media and fans, Smith in Chicago proved himself to be utterly inflexible on defense. Let us recall that prior to the doomed 2007-2009 seasons, Ron Rivera was “running” the Bears defense as coordinator (as much as any coordinator would be allowed to “run” Lovie’s defense. And we also should recall that Smith fired Rivera allegedly because Rivera wouldn’t adhere to Smith’s rigid bend-but-don’t-break ways.

After reading Smith talk about HIS system in Tampa, I’m thankful that we have Marc Trestman and Phil Emery in Chicago. On offense, Trestman proved in one season that he can take a group of players and tailor his system to fit their strengths. This is his genius, and is what we have been waiting for in Chicago for it seems decades.

On defense, the first year of the Trestman era was obviously a disaster. With Mel Tucker (by all accounts a great coach) running Smith’s system, the Bears posted the worst defensive numbers in their 94-year history!

But instead of having a coach insisting on inflexibly not making changes, dominating a general manager to spend resources on players to fit into his system, we finally have a group that is committed to developing a defensive system to maximize the players they will field in 2014.

Even if it pisses off Lance Briggs. More on that later.

Thanks, Devin

I’m wearing my Devin Hester Super Bowl 41 jersey today, and am a little sad. On Thursday, the Bears announced they will not be re-signing the future Hall of Fame kick returner. He leaves the Bears tied for the most return touchdowns in NFL history.

I plunked down money I don’t have for the jersey in 2007. I said at the time, even if Hester doesn’t last or does nothing else, we will always have the memory of the opening kickoff return touchdown in February of that year. And we always will.

As much as I will miss Devin as he once was, Steve Rosenbloom summed up the situation in today’s Chicago Tribune accurately. The NFL has legislated kick returns out of the game. The Bears have far greater needs for which to spend their limited salary cap space on the defense. Even an NFL-minimum contract for Hester would be too much, in my opinion, for the way Hester currently plays.

And I’m happy to see that Hester’s exit was graceful. He thanked the fans, said he loved playing for us, and would love to come back to retire as a Bear one day. Contrast that to Brian Urlacher‘s babyish exit, vilifying the fans that paid his salary, the most the team has ever paid any player.

Thanks Devin. We will miss you, but will always have the great memories.

Chicago Bears Slow Cold Month Headlines

Too little Bears news. Too much personal commitment. No posts for a month. And if you’re not in the Chicago area, let me tell you we’ve all been closeted in the worst winter we’ve had in a couple decades. Today we’re barely going to reach zero fahrenheit for about the tenth day this winter.

Bears-related headlines for February:

Here’s a list of the top 25 unrestricted free agents in the NFL. I sure would love to have Greg Hardy, Jarius Byrd, Vonte Davis and Alex Mack. But we all know if any free agents from other teams are going to be signed, they’re going to be at the bottom of the top 25 available. And we can’t forget, Greg Hardy being across from Charles Johnson certainly had to have helped his sack stats.

I sure would be willing to give former Packers’ safety Nick Collins a chance, for which he is looking. These things usually don’t happen in Chicago, though.

Take a peek at Alshon Jeffery on NFL Network commenting on his top plays of the season. Pretty cool.

A Detroit sportswriter entertains the notion that the Lions may want to trade Ndamukong Suh. If this were not a fantasyland statement, I’d sure give up the Bears’ first-round pick for him. In his article, the writer notes that it may be better following the Seahawks plan, to (paraphrased) “build a great defense with cheaper late-round picks.” DUHHH…every team would build the best defense in the NFL with cheaper late-round picks if they could. Doesn’t usually happen that way. Takes a lot of draft acumen and LUCK.

Finally, for the sixth time in seven years since the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl appearance, the team is raising my ticket prices. Even though they’ve made the playoffs a grand total of one time in those years. As I say EVERY YEAR, I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m fortunate enough to have season tickets. And I make the choice to purchase them. But my prices have been going up at least 5% per year almost every year. I’m also fortunate to be employed, but I can tell you in the economy we’ve faced for the last seven years or so, I haven’t received anywhere near a 5% raise during those years. There will be a point when I am priced out of the game, plain and simple. Which sucks. Here’s the statement from the Ministry of Propaganda (

Starting out the offseason with a bang

Unfortunately, the Bears offseason has started early. They had numerous opportunities to win that game, but in the end, they fell short to Green Bay, something we have grown accustomed to seeing.

In the week leading up to the game against the Packers, the Bears gave out two contract extensions. Phil Emery handed Robbie Gould a huge contract for a kicker, giving him $9 million guaranteed. This was the biggest guaranteed contract ever given to a kicker. Gould has certainly been a consistent Chicago Bear since arriving in the Windy City in 2005. He was picked up off the streets by Jerry Angelo, and he has done a tremendous job ever since. To me, this one might be the extension that bites the organization in the ass. Gould missed a few big field goals in 2013 and was only the 12th most accurate kicker for the season. Kickers shouldn’t take up in the area of $4 million every season in cap space, especially on a team that needs every dollar to improve it’s horrendous defense. Let’s hope Gould can get back to his 2011 form, because in 2012, he wasn’t great either.

The other was Tony Fiammetta, something that nobody saw coming. Fiammetta has bounced around the league some, but ever since July, anyone with a brain could see that this was going to be a good spot for him. He really did a good job this year as a blocker, so the contract was earned. He opened up lanes for Matt Forte and was a big reason for Forte’s success. On the very, very few times he was called upon to make a catch, he made it. The extension is probably only worth $1.5 to $2 million annually, and even though two years is probably one year too long, it’s nice to have a quality fullback in town until 2016.

Today, it was just supposed to be an ordinary, postseason press conference for the Bears’ head coach and general manager. While it was, Emery got it started off with a blockbuster announcement. He, George McCaskey and Cliff Stein got contract extensions completed with G Matt Slauson, CB Tim Jennings, and QB Jay Cutler.

Matt Slauson was one of the Bears’ best signings when it was finalized back in the spring. Slauson was always a quality guard for the Jets, and he provides a nastiness and veteran leadership to the offensive line. Beyond that, he performed well for Chicago. Once again, four years is a long time for someone of this position unless they are one of the league’s best, but letting Slauson go would have been a mistake. Letting one guard walk to sign another is counterproductive and a waste of time. It’s good to know that the Bears finally have a steady offensive line.

Getting Tim Jennings back in the fold for four more years was a must. With Charles Tillman likely playing elsewhere this upcoming season, Emery had to sign Jennings. Going into the season against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and whomever the Vikings select at pick #8 without your two starting cornerbacks would have proven to be a costly mistake. Jennings may be small and he probably can’t guard the Calvin Johnson‘s of the world, but nobody on defense was steadier than Jennings in 2013 for the Bears. Pro Football Focus rated he and Nate Collins as Chicago’s only two defensive players in the “positive category” this year. I expect Emery to address the other spot in free agency (New England’s Aqib Talib, Green Bay’s Sam Shields, or Captain Munnerlyn, who they had interest in last offseason) or in the draft (Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard).

Of course, the extension that everyone will be talking about is the 7 year deal given to Jay Cutler. Like everything else Cutler does or says, this move will be under the microscope for a long time. Brandon Marshall has tweeted that it will be $126 million total, so that comes out to $18 million per season. Essentially, Emery believes that Cutler can work successfully with Marc Trestman toward winning Super Bowls. This contract will most likely be front loaded within the first three or four seasons, which means that Cutler has 3-4 years to take the Bears’ offense to new heights. The contract will hopefully have a cap hit under $9 or $10 million for the first few years. If Cutler doesn’t perform well enough, that will likely mean the end of Cutler, Emery and Trestman in Chicago.

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1 on twitter)

Packer Giveaway..The End

Bears lose to Packers stupidly againLike the French at the Louisana Purchase (.03 per acre), the Chicago Bears on Sunday gave away what was on the table. In this case, the NFC North division championship.

Different year, different stakes, different Bears team, same results. Over the last 20 seasons, the Bears have lost 30 of the 41 matchups including the 2010 NFC Championship. Against Aaron Rodgers, the Bears are a miserable 2-10. This is why before the game I was hopeful, but did not expect a Bears victory. There is no reason that I should have. Until the Bears prove they can win consistently over Rodgers or in games that matter, I will not believe they have a chance against their rivals.

I don’t even have a bad taste in my mouth about the Packers. True, I will never like them as the Bears’ greatest rivals, but right now I have no animosity. After the Detroit Lions controlled the division then gave it away, the Bears controlled it and gave it away to Green Bay. So who could not give some credit to the Packers for enduring. They held the Bears off when Chicago couldn’t score despite having many chances to do so in the first half, then they took the Bears’ stupidity on two particular plays and used it to win.

I am frustrated with the officials for three reasons. First, I believe on the third play of the game, Alshon Jeffery was interfered with on third down, forcing the Bears to punt. No call by the refs, when they called virtually the same penalty against the Bears on the next series. Second, the roughing the passer penalty of Shea McClellin on Aaron Rodgers was bogus. Finally, clearly the play clock expired on Green Bay’s first fourth-down conversion of their final drive.

But these are petty grievances when the entire Bears defense lost the game by ignoring a fumble and allowing the Packers an easy touchdown, and when Chris Conte blew coverage on the decisive Packer touchdown. Given these inexcusable gaffes, the Bears deserved to lose. And they lost in very fitting fashion.

The 2013 Chicago Bears defense was their worst ever-and that’s saying a lot considering the Dave Wannstedt years. They by far gave up the most yards ever in franchise history, never allowed less than 20 points in any game, allowed the most points in team history, even losing a game in which they scored 41 points. Awful. Vomit-inducing.

As I left my seats with thousands of other dejected Bears fans postgame on Sunday, a fan in the first row of my section was screaming and punching his seat. A security person approached as the fan said “I don’t give a damn what security says, I’m pissed…etc.” My mantra for the rest of Sunday night became “if you’re that mad about a game, your life must be perfect. Don’t most of the rest of us have enough real problems to make yet another Bears loss to the Packers no big deal?”

Indeed, I know I do. Happy New Year Bears fans.

The Forecast- Packers vs Bears

While I picked the Bears to lose to the Eagles, I never expected it to turn out the way it did. As predicted by most, LeSean McCoy had his way with the pathetic Chicago defense. After just six offensive plays run by Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler, the Eagles had 21 points, giving the Bears zero chance of winning the game. On Philadelphia’s first drive, they scored rather easily, and shortly thereafter, Devin Hester fumbled the ball away. This allowed the Eagles to go up 14-0, so Hester fumbled more than just the ball.

There isn’t much more to say about that atrocity. The Bears were beaten, and beaten badly at that, in every facet of football on Monday. The special teams unit continues to be a major disappointment as does the defense. The offense wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but the deficit forced pass-first and pass-only play calls throughout the obliteration. Luckily for Chicago, the season can be salvaged with a win today. The Bears welcome the Packers into town, a team that has had their number for the last 6 or so years. It’s a winner-take-all game, as the victorious team gets a home game in the first week of the playoffs and the other will be watching on television.

The Packers, once again, have been decimated by injuries. They have lost Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb to significant time this season. In the past, they were able to make up for injuries, but injuries to three of the best pass catchers, best passing rusher, and their best player in general is too much for any team to overcome. Back in November, the Bears went to Green Bay and saw a defense that was giving up big plays in the pass game and one that was getting gashed on the ground; things haven’t changed. Last week, they played the Steelers tough but lost in the end. Both of these teams have a terrific opportunity to get to the playoffs after mediocre seasons. Which team will capitalize?

College Football Recap
There have been quite a few bowl games since the Bears last played, and two of them were local teams. Northern Illinois lost to Utah State, showing once again that had they played in a BCS game, they would have been annihilated. Notre Dame won at Yankee Stadium yesterday against Rutgers.

I won’t waste my or anyone else’s time with recaps of each game.

This contest has the potential to be another one of those games where the temperature could feel like it’s in the single digits at the end of it. In terms of precipitation, there could be some snow, and as for wind, it’s going to be howling anywhere from 20-35 mph.

Injury report
The Bears are doing fine, with the exception of Earl Bennett (personal); he is “highly questionable,” in Marc Trestman’s words. That would open up opportunities for Marquess Wilson and hopefully not Eric Weems. Lance Briggs (shoulder) is probable. Green Bay is getting healthier. Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) will play today for the first time since Shea McClellin sacked him on November 4 (interestingly enough, that’s the last time McClellin laid a finger on a quarterback, I believe). WR Randall Cobb (knee) and Eddie Lacy (ankle) are playing today, too. DE Mike Neal (chest) and LB Nick Perry (foot) are probable. With all that being said, Clay Matthews won’t play today, as he broke his thumb once again.

Did you know?
If the Bears somehow score 41 points today, they will break the franchise record for points scored in a season of 456 points set in 1985.

NFL Predictions
At this time of the year with a lot of meaningless games being played, I will just reflect on my preseason predictions. In my first forecast of the year, I picked my two rookies of the year to be Giovani Bernard and Star Lotulelei. Both have been decent players who will have good futures, but they won’t win the award. I also picked Ndamukong Suh to win defensive player of the year; he has been good, but I don’t think he’s going to take it home. Matt Ryan is definitely not going to win the MVP, and he’s not going to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl like I had predicted, either. I did predict Denver to get to East Rutherford, so there is still a chance of that. In other words, all of my predictions, except one, stunk. (37-28-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Eddie Lacy- Eddie Lacy has been one of the great surprises of the year for Green Bay. The Packers pounced on him after he somehow fell deep into the draft. Lacy hasn’t lost a beat since January, when he and the rest of the Crimson Tide destroyed Notre Dame in the National Championship; Lacy has surpassed 1,100 yards already. Lacy’s only weakness is his speed and his injury problems, but he shouldn’t have any problem exposing the truly despicable Bears’ run defense. That dreadful defense has given up 2,400 rushing yards this year, and the next closest hasn’t given up 2,100. Lacy is going to have a solid game. Let’s hope it’s not a great one.

Tim Jennings- This whole lack-of-a-pass-rush thing hasn’t gotten really, really old. Shea McClellin sucks and David Bass doesn’t play. With the exception of Jeremiah Ratliff, the defensive tackles- Corey Wootton, Landon Cohen, Stephen Paea- stink. On that note, I was going to make this player to watch Julius Peppers. I believe that he has to be a factor today. If Aaron Rodgers can sit back there for 5+ seconds every snap, he’s going to throw for 400 yards in a Green Bay win. The Bears are dead last in the league in sacks with 28. If, or when, they don’t get any pressure on Rodgers, they are going to rely heavily on Tim Jennings. When the Bears signed Jennings in 2010, nobody expected him to be the player he has become. He has a tough job ahead of him today against James Jones, Randall Cobb, or Jordy Nelson, but I trust him more than any other player in that secondary.

Brandon Marshall- Much has been made of the legacy of Brandon Marshall. Make no mistake, Marshall has had a Hall of Fame type career in this league. However, he has never caught a pass in a playoff game. He has never been shy about expressing his negative feelings toward the Packers. He has made it clear that his only goals remaining as a professional are related to the playoffs. So, combine the two and Marshall is going to want to have a huge game today. The Packers’ defense as a whole has been very suspect, so he shouldn’t have a problem against their weak secondary.

Jay Cutler- I tweeted the other day that Jay Cutler’s weekly press conference was very shameful and troubling. He proceeded to show that he did not give a shit about what anyone there thought and clearly avoided question after question in regards to his puzzling struggles against the Pack. Cutler can shut up a lot of people with a great individual performance today, especially if Chicago can also pick up the win. If not, it might make Phil Emery’s decision on moving on to another quarterback that much simpler. There are no excuses anymore for Cutler. The Bears’ offensive line has been a pleasant surprise. He has never had more weapons in his career. This is the best coaching staff he has ever had. Once again, Green Bay’s defense has been up and down, but mostly down, and it won’t be easier for the Packers without Clay Matthews as his yeast infection is once again acting up.

The Forecast
For years and years, I have hoped and prayed that the Bears would overtake the Packers in the division and ultimately become what the Packers have- a juggernaut in the conference. It hasn’t transpired that way for Chicago, and I’m not sure where the blame lies. I’d like to believe that after their win earlier in the season in Green Bay that Marc Trestman and Phil Emery are going to help turn it all around. I will say one thing: one thing in common with every Bears loss to the Packers is Jay Cutler. As I said, Cutler has been downright horrible in his career against Green Bay. Whether it’s been up in that dump or here in Chicago, he’s been really bad. I would absolutely love to pick the Bears, but I made a promise to myself last year that I’m done picking them the Bears in games against the Packers until I know that Cutler can beat them. I’m sticking to it. Packers 30-20. (10-5 on the year)

Jeffery Snubbed: Packer Thoughts

Alshon Jeffery

Alshon Jeffery quiets the Green Bay fans.

Good news is (not that it matters in the end), the Bears will be represented in the 2014 Pro Bowl by Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Pretty cool to see those guys get their due.

Unfortunately, I really thought Alshon Jeffery‘s breakout sophomore season would get him selected. It didn’t. Upon reviewing the NFL’s receiving stats through 15 games, Jeffery ranks sixth in the NFL in yardage with 1,341 yards on 86 receptions. All five receivers ranked ahead of him made the game. Marshall trails just slightly, but has bettered his mate on touchdown catches with 11 to Jeffery’s seven.

For this Bears fan of 34 seasons, this offensive season has been nothing short of remarkable. It is only the second time in the Bears’ 94-year history that they have two 1,000 yard receivers (1995, Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham). I don’t have the exact reference, but I know damn well it’s the first time they’ve had a receiver go to the Pro Bowl in successive seasons. The only possibilities otherwise would have been Johnny Morris or Harlon Hill in the late 1950′s, but I don’t have time to do that research.

Congrats to all of these guys for making the 2013 Chicago Bears season fun to watch offensively. Unfortunately at the same time, the Bears defense has been downright offensive to watch as well.

Final thoughts on the Bears-Packers matchup at Soldier Field for the NFC North title. All I can continue to think of is even a broken clock is right twice a day; every dog has its day, etc. After being so thoroughly dominated by the Green Bay Packers for several decades, it would be about time for the Bears to finally take a critical game against Green Bay (OK, they did in 2008 but it didn’t lead to a playoff berth). I’ve just been waiting for the Bears to prove to me they can do it since around 1991.

Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker’s boys had better pull out all the stops and not leave anything in the playbook for this one.