Cutler: “I learned a lot of things (last year).”

Jay Cutler is ready to put last year’s struggles behind him, but before he does he wants to make it clear that 2009 wasn’t all bad. At least he learned a couple of things while throwing a league-high 26 interceptions.

From the Chicago Tribune:

“It was a rough year,” he said. “I’m not going to say it wasn’t. I wouldn’t say it was all bad. I learned a lot of things. Had some success in Denver, and then we came here and hit a few speed bumps. But I think it made me a better player. … I haven’t lost any confidence in my abilities.

“You have to play within yourself, get back to some of those things that made you the player you were in the past, and not trying to force it. I think that’s kind of where I got in trouble last year … trying to make some plays, trying to get back in the ballgames, and trying to push the ball down field.”

I think part of the problem last year was that the Bears thought they were better than they really were. Jerry Angelo tried to use toothpaste to fill the holes along the offensive line and the move blew up in his face. Defensively, the Bears weren’t as good as they had been in previous years and when Brian Urlacher went down in Week 1, then things really started to fall apart.

When everyone expects a team to be good and it’s not, its star players start to press, which is what Cutler did. His offensive line didn’t give him a lot of protection, which in turn made Matt Forte useless and the receivers weren’t good enough to rise to the challenge and bail Cutler out. So what happened was Cutler tried to do too much and he usually paid the price for it.

Cutler may work wonders with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Quarterbacks usually don’t struggle to learn Martz’s system and tend to improve in their first year. But that doesn’t change the fact that Angelo still hasn’t fixed the problems on the offensive line, so it’s important that Cutler doesn’t fall back into the same bad habits that made him fail last year or else the Bears will be in trouble again.

It’s good to hear that Cutler hasn’t lost any confidence in his abilities, although confidence has never been a problem for him. He needs to trust in his teammates and in turn, his teammates need to step up and help take some of the pressure off his shoulders.

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Is this a make or break year for Matt Forte?

After Matt Forte racked up 1,715 total yards and 12 touchdowns his rookie year in 2008, the Bears felt as though they had a star in the making. He drew comparisons to Edgerrin James, given the backs’ similarities in balance, body control and burst.

But then something happened in Forte’s second year. His play dramatically fell off and while some like to chalk it up to a sophomore slump, the issues were deeper than that. The offensive line struggled to open holes for him and somewhere along the way he lost his confidence. He also had his knee scoped after the season, which might suggest that he played hurt too. It wasn’t just one thing that affected his play – it was a culmination of factors that limited him to fewer than 1,000 rushing yards and only four total touchdowns.

Whether Forte is due for a bounce back campaign or not, there will be one significant change this year than there was in 2009. And he goes by the name of Chester Taylor. The Bears didn’t have an answer for a slumping Forte last year, but this season Taylor is ready and willing to take over at the drop of a hat. The former Viking isn’t a one-man wrecking crew, but he has proven to be an effective back over his career and won’t hesitate to seize the moment if Forte struggles.

While suggesting that this is a make or break year for Forte is a bit extreme (after all, he’s only in his third year), he now has competition for touches. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the presence of Taylor will help Forte stay fresh throughout the season and instill some of that confidence that he lost in ’09.

Of course, no matter who runs the ball, the offensive line must do a better jump opening up holes. There’s reason to believe that the Bears’ O-line will be just as bad as it was last year, as GM Jerry Angelo did nothing to address the massive issue in the offseason. The additions of Taylor, defensive end Julius Peppers and safety Chris Harris certainly make this team better, but sliding Frank Omiyale from guard to right tackle doesn’t constitute fixing the offensive line. So it’ll be interesting to see if Forte can build off the success he had in his rookie year, or if the Bears’ running game will once again fall apart at the feet of their offensive line.

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Bears to make a play for Peppers and Marshall?

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears met with the player rep for free agent Julius Peppers last weekend. While this might be music to fans’ ears, if this is true then the meeting could be constituted as tampering.

Teams like to meet with player reps before free agency kicks off in order to establish a relationship with the rep’s client. Technically, teams can’t start negotiating with free agents until March 5, but deals always happen at midnight the day of, so clearly teams are in communication with reps and agents before then. The problem arises when the team gets caught negotiating before that time, so chances are the Bears will deny the Tribune’s report, whether it’s true or not.

On a related note, Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that at least one NFL source believes that Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall will end up a Bear in 2010. Hayes didn’t go into much detail outside of noting that the NFL source wagered a “steak dinner” on Marshall landing in Chicago.

Marshall is a fit for the Bears just based on the relationship he has with quarterback Jay Cutler. Plus, Mike Martz would certainly love to reunite the pair in his offense.

But the problem is that the Bears don’t have a first or second round pick in this year’s draft. So unless Denver is willing to take a third rounder and a package of air fresheners in exchange for Marshall, Chicago would either have to sweeten the pot with a player or two, or hand over a pick in the 2011 draft.

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Will Peppers have a new home by Friday?

In the rumor section on, the site speculates that Julius Peppers could have a new team by Friday, which is when teams can officially start signing free agents.

Julius Peppers will have a new team, and it could happen as quickly as this Friday. We continue to hear him linked to different teams, with varying degrees of certainty.

The Eagles and Patriots have been considered the front-runners for some time now, and the Bears also appear to be one of the front-runners for Peppers, given the fact that they have no picks in the first two rounds to find a new pass-rusher; in other words, any big personnel improvements will have to come from free agency. Bears LB Brian Urlacher seemed very pleased with the possibility of adding Peppers in recent comments to the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, at the scouting combine, leader of the Browns’ world Mike Holmgren discussed the Peppers possibility to the media, per

I think where Peppers will land will ultimately come down to two things: Money and whether or not he wants to play OLB in a 3-4. I’m sure he wants to play for a competitor too, but Peppers can also be lazy at times and if he has the chance to be a one dimensional pass rusher in a 3-4, then he may jump on the opportunity by signing with the Patriots or Browns.

The Bears have been linked to Peppers multiple times over the past week, but I can’t envision Jerry Angelo opening the team’s wallet in order to bring the defensive end to Chicago. The Bears could definitely use a pass rusher (really, what team couldn’t?), but if history is any indication, then there’s no doubt Angelo will once again go shopping in the offseason bargain bin to fill needs.

Another team I think we can safely cross off the potential candidates list is the Falcons, who are very familiar with the fact that Peppers will disappear during games and take plays off. The concept of adding Peppers to the same line as John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux is enticing, but GM Thomas Dimitroff’s philosophy is to build via the draft. Plus, the Falcons already have younger, cheaper options than Peppers already on the roster in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, the latter of which is raw but has the size and speed to develop into a solid pass rusher.

If I were to make an official prediction as to where Peppers will land, my guess would be the Eagles. He wouldn’t be able to play OLB, but I think Philly would be willing to throw the money at him and he’d be intrigued by the possibility of helping the Eagles get to a Super Bowl.

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Bears the front-runners for Peppers?

The latest in the daily Julius Peppers-rumor mill is that the Bears could be the front-runners to land the hot ticket free agent.


Well, the Bears didn’t make the “Final Eight,” and they appear to be one of the front-runners for Peppers, given the fact that they have no picks in the first two rounds to find a new pass-rusher; in other words, any big personnel improvements will have to come from free agency. Bears LB Brian Urlacher seemed very pleased with the possibility of adding Peppers in comments to the Chicago Tribune, and we’re not sure how much import will be assigned to his feelings by management, but he is the leader of the defense.

The Bears have always been among the cheapest organizations in the league, although they did pay dearly (both in terms of money and draft picks) to bring Jay Cutler to Chicago last offseason and they might be willing to open their wallets again to nab Peppers.

That said, if history is any indication then GM Jerry Angelo isn’t going to spend recklessly, if at all this offseason. Every year the Bears have gapping holes to fill and every year, Angelo does his shopping in the bargain bin. When the Bears needed to bolster their offensive line last season, Angelo signed Orlando Pace and Frank Omiyale on the cheap and he got what he paid for. Now he has to figure out how he’s going to address his needs along the O-line without having draft selections in either of the first two rounds.

One player I could see Angelo making a play for, however, is Aaron Kampman. Kampman wasn’t a fit in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense in Green Bay last season and he knows the NFC North. He would come cheaper than Peppers and assuming he hasn’t lost his ability to rush the passer from a 4-3 end position, he makes sense for the Bears.

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