LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Here are 10 things you need to know from Halas Hall as the Bears prepare for the New Orleans Saints:
1. The Bears’ focus really is on New Orleans. That’s what the coaches and players have been preaching since last week’s loss to the Cowboys and they’re backing up that talk with their actions at the linebacker position.
Lance Briggs’ trip to season-ending injured reserve was supposed to allow the Bears to see if Jon Bostic can really play the weak-side linebacker position, but apparently they’re abandoning that thought this week now that D.J. Williams is also out for the rest of the season.
Williams was put on injured reserve Thursday with a neck injury and the Bears believe putting Bostic in the middle gives them the best chance to beat the Saints Monday night.
But does beating the Saints really matter as much as evaluating your talent for 2015?
“Well I think the most important thing is what (Bostic) can do today, tomorrow and Monday night to help us win a football game,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “Part of the reason we moved him around during the course of training camp and early in the season is because if we did get in this position, he’d be able to handle it. And if we decide that it’s in the best interest of the team for him to go to that position, that’s what we have to do. And Jon certainly understands that.”
Contributing to the issue is that Darryl Sharpton, who can also play in the middle, continues to be nagged by a hamstring injury suffered Oct. 26 in New England. He did not practice Thursday.
But at this point, with nothing on the line, why not try Shea McClellin in the middle? That would allow the Bears to continue to give Bostic reps on the weak side and keep Christian Jones on the strong-side, which is his most natural position.
Maybe they don’t trust McClellin to read the offense and make the calls, but having Bostic make the defensive calls out of the weak-side spot would be no different than what they asked Briggs to do the last two years.
It’s possible Sharpton will move into the middle once he’s available, but if that’s not this week then it just seems like one more missed opportunity to evaluate Jones and Bostic in their most natural positions.
2. Mel Tucker was expecting a question about his future after a report over the weekend said he won’t be back at the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2015.
“I was waiting for that question,” Tucker said when asked about what he makes of the report. “Not much. I’m focused on New Orleans and the rest of the season.”
He didn’t really answer the expected question, but what is he supposed to say?
3. Tucker also dodged questions regarding the open head coaching job at Wisconsin.
“With all due respect, I’m really just focusing on New Orleans right now,” he said. “That’s a legitimate, valid question, but at this point in time, it’s really about preparing from a coaching staff standpoint, from a player standpoint, preparing for the New Orleans game. We’re not thinking about anything else at all.”
Tucker was in the mix for the job two years ago when it was open, but it’s still unclear how serious the interest was for both parties. Tucker played at Wisconsin and was part of Barry Alvarez’s first recruiting class, but Alvarez has also made it clear that he wants to hire someone who will view it as a destination job and not a steppingstone to another job. It’s doubtful that Wisconsin would be Tucker’s last stop.
“We always want everybody to have opportunities,” Trestman said when asked about Wisconsin possibly going after Tucker. “If they feel, and that’s as a general rule whoever they might be, if they have a chance to grow in this profession, we’re in a position to want to help them do that whoever that might be.”
Don’t take the Mel Tucker to Wisconsin talk too seriously. That hire is not likely to happen.
4. Martellus Bennett might be the Bears’ best Pro Bowl candidate. He leads all NFL tight ends with 77 receptions and is third in receiving yards (821). While Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski might be locks, Bennett and Carolina’s Greg Olsen seem like logical choices as the other two tight ends to make the Pro Bowl. With the new format, choices are made without regard to conference.
“He’s really taken to coaching as much as anything,” Trestman said Thursday about Bennett’s growth. “I think (tight ends coach Andy Bischoff) has done a very good job in his preparation. Martellus is a guy who wants structure, he wants detail. And when he plays within the framework of the offense and is in a position to do what he’s supposed to do — in the right place, right depth, right splits — he’s in a better position to make the play. And I think that’s what’s really happened.”
Running back Matt Forte and right guard Kyle Long could also be in the mix for a Pro Bowl nod.
5. Ryan Mundy provided some great social media advice for young players.
“Think seven times, tweet once,” he said.
Mundy was the recipient of “The Good Guy Award”, which is voted on by the Chicago chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association. Each year the award goes to the player who showed the most professionalism, courtesy and respect with the media throughout the season. Former quarterback Josh McCown was the inaugural winner last year.
6. The Bears signed fullback Montell Owens to fill D.J. Williams’ roster spot. Owens is a former two-time Pro Bowler who played for special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis in Jacksonville.
“He’s a very serious-minded, tough kid that has played very well in the kicking game,” DeCamillis said. “He has had some injury issues the past couple of years but when he’s out on the field he’s a really good player.”
Owens is the first true fullback the Bears have had on their roster since they let Tony Fiammetta go after Week 3.
7. In addition to Sharpton, safety Chris Conte (back), kicker Robbie Gould (quad) and offensive lineman Michael Ola (back) did not practice Thursday.
Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was limited in practice. He missed the last two games with a knee injury.
8. Jared Allen still has some personal goals motivating him. The defensive end said Thursday he would still like to get to 10 sacks this season and noted that he is only four sacks behind former Bear Richard Dent.
Dent finished with 137.5 sacks in his career and Allen is currently 133.5, which is tied for the ninth most sacks in the NFL since 1982. Allen needs five more sacks this year to get to 10 on the season, which would also put him past Dent.
“I’ve been to the playoffs four times in my career so you have to be self-motivated,” Allen said. “You play because this is your job and what you’re supposed to do. I’m trying to get to 10 sacks still, trying to help our team win. I think we were top-10 rush defense before the last game, so trying to whittle that back up there. I’m just trying to play good football. I’m about four sacks away from Richard Dent so you’ve always got things you’re playing for. Try and win games – 8-8 is better than whatever the other outcomes could be. We have a chance for a .500 season; not that that’s great, like taking your sister to prom.”
9. After arguably the worst special teams performance of the season, DeCamillis singled out one opposing player as the biggest problem: Bruce Carter.
“It was probably not a good film session, and the discouraging thing was that we had strung together a couple of solid weeks, and then we didn’t in that game,” DeCamillis said. “The biggest thing was that we didn’t handle one of the things, and that was Bruce Carter. And everybody can say what they want, but Bruce Carter’s the one we didn’t handle and we felt like going in he was the one we thought we had to handle — we knew we had to handle, I knew we had to handle. And we didn’t handle him for sure. We just didn’t do that.”
What’s interesting is that Carter wasn’t credited with any special teams stats in the official stat book, although he clearly got a piece of one of Pat O’Donnell’s punts.
10. Referee Carl Chaffers has been assigned to Monday night’s game between the Bears and Saints, according a source.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.