Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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Even though cornerback Charles Tillman was voted to his first Pro Bowl last season, and the team's other starting corner, Tim Jennings, was re-signed last month as an unrestricted free agent, that was a position the Bears wanted to upgrade.

While Tillman has been a nine-year starter, he recently turned 31. The 5-8, 185-pound Jennings has started 28 games for the Bears over the past two seasons, but he was benched late last season, although he regained his starting spot after one game.

Although they may not have upgraded their starting cornerback tandem, they have fortified their secondary by agreeing to one-year contracts with veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite. If nothing else, the team has added depth and maybe created an interesting training camp battle between Jennings and Hayden, who were teammates for four years (2006-09) in Indianapolis.

Hayden, 28, is a Chicago native with 47 NFL starts. He spent his first six seasons with the Colts after being selected in the second round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Illinois. He spent last season with the Falcons, where he had two interceptions, giving him a career total of 11, to go with 41 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also has 25 special teams tackles.

The 6-0, 195-pound Hayden, who attended Chicago's Hubbard High School and south suburban Joliet Junior College, also has three postseason interceptions, including one against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, which he returned 56 yards for a touchdown.

The 5-11, 185-pound Wilhite spent his first three seasons with the Patriots (2008-10) after they drafted him in the fourth round out of Auburn. Last year the 28 year old was with the Broncos and played in 15 games with two starts, making 26 tackles with one interception, two pass breakups, two sacks and three special teams tackles. He has 15 career starts and has played in 54 games with 134 tackles, four interceptions and 11 pass breakups.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Offensive line: Every position on the line could be upgraded with the exception of right tackle, which should be in good hands, as long as last year's No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi is fully recovered from a dislocated kneecap that sidelined him after two games. Improvement is especially needed at left tackle, given the lack of pass protection provided by J'Marcus Webb last season.

2. Pass-rushing defensive end: UFA Israel Idonije was re-signed, and he is a solid run defender, but he had just five sacks playing across from DRE Julius Peppers. The defense is based on getting pass-rush pressure from the linemen, but they did not get that consistently last season.

3. Wide receiver: With the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Bears have their long-awaited No. 1 receiver. But, the most productive member of last year's group, Johnny Knox, is slowly rehabbing from a devastating hit late last season that necessitated back surgery. There is no timetable for his return.

MEDICAL WATCH
No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER
RB Matt Forte (tendered at $7.742 million).

TRANSITION PLAYER
None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--LS Chris Massey filled in reliably last season, and Patrick Mannelly, the Bears' long-snapper for the past 14 years, is still rehabbing from the torn ACL that ended his 2011 season in November. Mannelly might not be 100 percent for some time.

--WR Roy Williams, at 6-3 and 215 pounds, is easily the biggest of an undersized group of wide receivers. But, despite high hopes last season, Williams' production was pedestrian: 37 catches, 507 yards, two touchdowns.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RB Kahlil Bell (tendered at $1.26M with no compensation) was impressive in late-season action last year outperforming Marion Barber, although even in limited action he fumbled three times.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--TE Kellen Davis: UFA; $6M/2 yrs, $2.7M SB.

--DE Israel Idonije: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Tim Jennings: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

--QB Josh McCown: UFA; $850,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB.

--S Craig Steltz: UFA; $1.64M/2 yrs.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--RB Michael Bush: UFA Raiders; $14M/4 yrs, $7M guaranteed.

--QB Jason Campbell: UFA Raiders; $3.5M/1 yr, $2M SB.

--LB Blake Costanzo: UFA 49ers; $2M/2 yrs, $400,000 SB.

--CB Kelvin Hayden: UFA Falcons; $825,000/1 yr.

--WR Brandon Marshall (trade Dolphins).

--WR Devin Thomas: UFA Giants; $700,000/1 yr.

--WR Eric Weems: UFA Falcons; $4.2M/3 yrs, $1,5M guaranteed.

--CB Jonathan Wilhite: UFA Broncos; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST

--NT Anthony Adams (released).

--RB Marion Barber (retired).

--CB Zack Bowman: UFA Vikings; $615,000/1 yr.

--CB Corey Graham: UFA Ravens; $3/7M/2 yrs, $1.2M SB.

--QB Caleb Hanie: UFA Broncos; $1.25M/1 yr.

--S Brandon Meriweather: UFA Redskins; $6M/2 yrs.

--DT Amobi Okoye: UFA Buccaneers; $2M/1 yr.

--T/G Frank Omiyale (released).

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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