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Brown reunion with Bears appears unlikely

The Sports Xchange
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Former Bears DE Alex Brown, who played the past two seasons in New Orleans, was cut by the Saints on Tuesday, but the Bears did not seem interested.

"Alex Brown is a lifetime friend," coach Lovie Smith said. "I was planning on pulling for him 15 games this season. (But) we like our guys we have right now. There's great competition with the guys we have on the roster right now."

PLAYER NOTES

--NT Anthony Adams did not play in any of the preseason games because of a calf injury, but he is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener.

--LB Lance Briggs (bruised knee) did not play in any of the final three preseason games, but he says he will be ready for the season opener.

--DE Corey Wootton, who was expected to be the top backup to starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, suffered ligament damage on the opening kickoff of the preseason opener and had arthroscopic knee surgery. He has targeted the season opener as a return date, but is not yet practicing, and he appears to be questionable at best for that game.

--RB Marion Barber, whose inspired play in the preseason has made Chester Taylor expendable, suffered a calf injury in the third preseason game and wasn't going to play in the fourth tune up, although he is expected to be healthy by Sept. 11.

--FS Major Wright, who was given the starting job when Danieal Manning was allowed to leave as a free agent, missed tackles in the second and third preseason games that could have prevented touchdowns, but coach Lovie Smith remains a staunch supporter.

--WR Roy Williams had two catches and three drops in the first three preseason games, and he could relinquish the starting job to Johnny Knox, who was demoted in favor of Williams for no apparent reason.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Rd. 1/29, OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - Was installed as the starting ORT almost immediately and is a physical force in the run game, and coaches are happy with his work ethic and attitude, but his pass protection needs refinement and improvement.

Rd. 2/53, DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State - Has struggled some to learn both the NT and 3-technique positions but seems more at home at the 3, where he has good strength and decent quickness.

Rd. 3/93, S Chris Conte, California - Strictly a backup at this point who will have to make stronger contributions than he has so far on special teams if he wants to see the field.

Round 5/160, QB Nathan Enderle, Idaho - A project who is a Mike Martz favorite but will be brought along slowly, although he could challenge inconsistent No. 2 Caleb Hanie by the end of the season.

Round 6/195, LB J.T. Thomas, West Virginia - Got significant playing time with the ones and twos in training camp because of the Bears' lack of depth and injuries to others. Will be asked to play a big role on special teams.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS
Starter -- Jay Cutler. Backups -- Caleb Hanie, Nathan Enderle.

Cutler made significant strides last season, despite operating behind a porous offensive line, which he could have blamed for some of his struggles but did not. Last year's No. 3, Caleb Hanie, has moved up to the No. 2 spot with. It remains to be seen if his solid performance in last season's NFC title game won over offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who was not one of Hanie's biggest fans last season. Enderle was not drafted to be a No. 3 forever, but he's still considered a project.

RUNNING BACKS
Starter: Matt Forte. Backups: Marion Barber, Kahlil Bell.

Forte is the Marshall Faulk in the current edition of Martz's offense, although no one is putting him in the same category yet as the Hall of Famer. But Forte has the versatility to run inside and outside, and he tied for the team lead last season with 51 receptions while establishing a career-best 4.5 yards per carry. Chester Taylor was a huge disappointment last season and was expected to be released. Barber clearly outplayed Taylor in the preseason and looks fresher, quicker and stronger. He should be the short-yardage specialist and provide Forte down time when needed. Bell has become a versatile backup by improving his pass-catching ability. He has enough size to run inside and enough speed to have ripped off a 72-yard run the first time he touched the ball as a pro in 2009.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter: Matt Spaeth. Backups: Kellen Davis, Desmond Clark.

Greg Olsen was traded because his pass-catching, weak-blocking type is not what Martz wants from the tight ends in his offense. Spaeth and Davis are both 6-foot-7 and considered more blockers than pass catchers, although both could pass for NBA players with their long, lean body types. Both are capable of figuring in the pass game, but that won't be their primary responsibilities. Clark was brought back for a 13th season and, if he can stay healthy, he provides the closest thing to an all-around tight end on the roster, although Spaeth and Davis are both considered to have some upside.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters: Devin Hester, Roy Williams, Earl Bennett. Backups: Johnny Knox, Sam Hurd, Dane Sanzenbacher.

There is plenty of big-play ability with speedsters Hester and Knox, and the veteran Williams was added to give the unit a bigger target besides Bennett, who was the only proven member of the cast with any size. Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy and might wind up being the leading pass catcher even though he's technically only a starter in three-WR sets. He is unafraid to work the middle of the field, and Cutler has confidence in him and his steady hands. Williams as one time was a dominant wideout in Martz's offenses in Detroit, but he was unimpressive in three years with the Cowboys and his play was "underwhelming" during training camp and the preseason leaving many scratching their heads over his promotion ahead of Knox.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Lance Louis, RT Gabe Carimi. Backups - T/G Frank Omiyale, G/C Edwin Williams, C Chris Spencer.

After 12 years ties were cut with six-time Pro Bowl C Olin Kreutz, and long-time RG Roberto Garza was moved into the middle where his leadership and smarts are considered more valuable to the Bears than his inexperience at the position. Both tackles are youngsters playing new positions. LT Webb earned a starting position at RT last season as a seventh-round rookie, but he was a left tackle at West Texas A&M. Carimi was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers, but his style of play is better suited to the right side where the Bears can take advantage of his strong run blocking. Williams couldn't hold starting spots at either tackle position, but he's shown some signs of adapting to his new LG position. Garza's move to the pivot created an opening for the athletic Louis, who brings a brawler's mentality to the unit. Omiyale has played both tackle spots and some guard, so he is the ideal swing tackle/utility man. Williams can play any of the three interior positions while Spencer seemed a likely starter when he was signed but is being given time to learn the offense.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
DLE Israel Idonije, 3T Henry Melton, NT Anthony Adams, DRE Julius Peppers. Backups: NT/3T Matt Toeaina, 3T Amobi Okoye, DE Corey Wootton.

Peppers was a huge difference maker in his first season, even though his sack total of 8 wasn't spectacular, at least for him. Peppers helped make everyone on the defense better, and he had 23 quarterback pressures, five more than the next two teammates combined. He also was outstanding against the run, an aspect of his game that had been overlooked, and he was voted to his sixth Pro Bowl. Idonije may have benefited from Peppers' presence as much as anyone. He had a breakout season in his first year as a full-time starter and matched Peppers' sack total, which was more than double his previous best. A late bloomer from Canada, he continues to improve every year. Melton has packed on 20 pounds without losing any of his quickness, which he is expected to utilize to disrupt opposing offenses. He can also rush the passer well enough to play end. In limited snaps in 2010, he tied for second on the team with nine QB pressures and had 2 1/2 sacks. Adams does the dirty work and is often underappreciated but always reliable. The Bears had just three sacks in the first three preseason games, and they all came from Okoye, who is an ideal 3 technique in the Bears Cover 2 scheme and can also play end. Toeaina was given a contract extension late last season and is more of a role player, but he can ably fill in at both DT spots, although he's better suited to nose tackle. Wootton, a 2010 fourth-round pick from Northwestern, showed flashes of being an effective pass rusher as a rookie, and he has enough size to hold the point of attack vs. the run. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason opener that required a scope, but he hopes to be back for the opener.

LINEBACKERS
Starters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Nick Roach. Backups: Brian Iwuh, J.T. Thomas, Dom DeCicco.

Urlacher and Briggs have been voted to 13 Pro Bowls between them. Both made the Pro Bowl last season, Briggs for the sixth straight season, and Urlacher for the seventh time but the first time in four years. That ended speculation that his considerable skills had faded away after a dislocated wrist in the 2009 season opener limited him to one-half of one game. Roach started six games last season, plus 15 in 2009, and he has quietly piled up 30 career starts mostly filling in for injured starters, but now he's clearly No. 1 on the strong side. Iwuh is more of a special teams guy, but he played well in the preseason, although he's probably not what the Bears want as a starter. Thomas played well early in camp but is nowhere near ready for prime time. DeCicco is likewise a special teams player in need of development.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters - LCB Tim Jennings, RCB Charles Tillman, FS Major Wright, SS Chris Harris. Backups: CB D.J. Moore, CB Zack Bowman, S Craig Steltz, S Chris Conte, CB Corey Graham.

Tillman has been one of the starters for each of his eight seasons and, while he's not a shut-down type, he matches up well with big, physical wide receivers and is a tough and willing participant in run support. Jennings is undersized but feisty, and his toughness more than compensates for his lack of size. There is some depth with Moore, who was a pleasant surprise at nickel last season, picking off four passes after barely touching the field as a rookie in '09. But having him and Jennings on the field at the same time makes the Bears susceptible to opponents with big wide receivers.

The promotion of Wright allows Harris to move back to his more natural position at strong safety, although he picked off five passes playing free last season. Harris is known as a big hitter and Wright has enough range and ball skills that he was considered for a starting spot last season before injuries slowed his development. Bowman began last season as the starter on the left side after a break-out season in '09, and he has much better size than Jennings or Moore, but he fell from favor last season because of a lack of physical play. Steltz has been around long enough to prove that he's a physical player and reliable backup but not an ideal starter. Conte is a project considering he played just one season at safety in college. Graham is a special teams whiz who has played corner and safety but isn't much of a ball athlete.

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK Robbie Gould, P Adam Podlesh, LS Patrick Mannelly, PR Devin Hester, KR Johnny Knox.

Gould is the fifth-most accurate FG kickers in NFL history, and his distance on kickoffs has improved every year. He struggled with timing a bit in the preseason as he adjusted to the holds of Podlesh, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent to replace Brad Maynard, the Bears' punter for the previous 10 seasons. In case anyone had forgotten, Hester showed again last season why he's the best return specialist ever, taking three punts to the house. Knox is an excellent kickoff-returner, and Hester could get some touches there, too. Mannelly is as consistent as they come. Coverage teams have usually been outstanding in the past, but coordinator Dave Toub is working in several new players this season.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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