NFL Wire News

Bears QB Cutler practices, might return this week


The Sports Xchange

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It is business as usual for the Chicago Bears heading into a Sunday home game against the Oakland Raiders, which means no one knows for certain who is playing and in many cases who is even available.

With the Bears, this is only partially due to injuries. That is just how it is with NFL teams focused on long-term development rather than the next game.

Getting back two of their biggest impact players on either side of the ball could go a long way toward making for a different on-field product.

The return of quarterback Jay Cutler from a pulled hamstring a week earlier than expected seems possible after he practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

The impact would be huge considering the admitted conservative game plan the Bears stuck to last week against the Seattle Seahawks. With Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, Chicago lost 26-0.

“(Green Bay) might look different if Aaron Rodgers isn’t in — any starting quarterback, obviously,” Chicago coach John Fox said. “There’s a reason they’re the starter.”

Fox didn’t want to go into whether it means a more wide-open attack with Cutler than Clausen. He did it without being specific.

“Last week is what it is,” Fox said. “Was it too conservative? I think I addressed Monday we did what we thought would best help us win a game and came up short.”

Defensive changes are largely the result of roster moves over the last few days as the Bears (0-3) did what many perceive as more major housecleaning. In actuality, it was nothing more than most rebuilding teams do in their first year.

The trade of defensive end Jared Allen to the Carolina Panthers, followed by the trade of linebacker Jonathan Bostic to the New England Patriots for a conditional draft pick and the waiving of safety Brock Vereen leaves Chicago starting Sam Acho with Pernell McPhee at outside linebacker.

The transactions also cemented inside linebackers Shea McClellin and Christian Jones as starters and further indicated the Bears’ belief in rookie safety Adrian Amos.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had several choices outside, with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young also healthier after recovering fully from surgeries. However, Acho is their choice to start.

“He’s had the most experience playing in this type of defense, so he has picked it up fast and is very comfortable in what we are doing and is very knowledgeable and does a solid job when he is out there,” Fangio said.

The biggest lineup change on defense would be the return of Jeremiah Ratliff to nose tackle.

Fangio rated Ratliff the team’s best lineman in training camp before his suspension for a 2013 league substance-abuse-policy violation. Still, the Bears can’t count on his return because he has been gone so long and also because he had an ankle injury after being suspended.

“He wouldn’t have played these first three games anyway, even if he wasn’t suspended,” Fangio said, “so he’s questionable for this game. So you put those two things together, it will be a chore for him to get back into playing shape.

“He probably will not be able to play as many plays as we would normally like him to.”

Players discount the thought they somehow could mentally be down after so many roster moves threatened jobs.

“I think the organization is doing every single thing possible to make the team better,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “I mean, there’s a lot of hiccups right now, but that’s what happens when there’s a lot of change happening.”

Regardless, the moves do mean different players lining up alongside each other and miscommunication problems. On special teams, in particular, this has been a problem.

They will have to learn to deal with it.

“You’re going to be playing with new guys, and whether it’s one of our (special teams) guys that gets hurt or a defensive starter gets hurt and now all of sudden you don’t have that guy for 27 plays or whatever, you’re going to be facing that challenge throughout the year,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said.

“We’ve just got to the do the best we can to win every play as best we can and go for whatever result we’re trying to achieve.”

Ultimately, the changes will tell coaches and the team itself about where they stand.

“You’re going to find out if guys want to go out there and fight as if we’re 3-0, and you’re going to find out the guys that are going to put it in the tank,” safety Antrel Rolle said.

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 7-6. The Raiders haven’t won in the rebuilt version of Soldier Field. Their last win in Chicago came in the old facility in 1993, 16-14.

GAME PLAN: On defense, the Bears will take an approach much like it was against Arizona earlier because they will face a team that thrives on balance and almost never will stray from the running game. Oakland sets up the pass with the run. The Bears will avoid playing safeties up because of the Raiders’ ability to throw deep off play-action. Blitzing the safety or going eight men in the box to stop the run can only invite the deep ball. Instead, Chicago will focus more on zone blitzes if it needs pressure to limit big plays.

The offensive approach largely depends on quarterback Jay Cutler’s availability. It has to be less conservative than last week, even if Jimmy Clausen is at quarterback, because they essentially prevented themselves from scoring while trying to limit mistakes. While Oakland’s defense plays a 4-3, it doesn’t always take a single-gap approach with up-field penetration by the front wall. With the linemen often holding up blockers so linebackers can be the primary tacklers, the Bears could get running back Matt Forte to the outside with tosses and cutbacks in the zone blocking scheme. Look for Cutler or Clausen to stay in the pocket more unless the Raiders go overboard with the blitz.

–In the doghouse last week after he struggled, second-year starting cornerback Kyle Fuller appears to have found his way back into defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s good graces.

Fuller made a few impact plays against Seattle in last week’s loss.

“He did a nice job; he’s just playing a little better,” Fangio said. “There is no magic potion out there. You gotta go out there, experience success, do your job, break up a pass or two, you know, be tight to your man, make the plays when they come to you, and the more he does that, the more confidence he will get.”

–The league fined tight end Martellus Bennett an unspecified amount for wearing cleats that did not go with the uniform.

“They get mad because my cleats are too black, but they’re perfect for my feet,” Bennett said. “I feel like they’re supposed to protect the players. I have a certain shoe that feels the best for my foot. I’ve had foot problems over the last two years.

“They fine me because they’re too black, and they don’t make them in white.”

Bennett said he wears “Jordan brand” cleats and blacks out the logo with a pen. He can be fined up to $11,576 for uniform violations.

NOTES: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis. Jeffery hasn’t played since the opener. … Tackle Jermon Bushrod (concussion, shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Bushrod sustained the concussion in Sunday’s loss at Seattle and left the game. … Punter Pat O’Donnell (knee) did not practice Wednesday due to an injury he sustained against Seattle. He hurt his right (kicking) leg. On Monday, coach John Fox said he had no knowledge of an injury to O’Donnnell. It is possible the Bears will bring in another punter. … Defensive end Ego Ferguson (knee) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. He missed last week’s game. … Nose tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis. Ratliff is coming off a three-game suspension for a league substance-abuse-policy violation resulting from a 2013 DUI while he played with Dallas. … Nose tackle Will Sutton (elbow) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. The team called it a biceps injury after Sunday’s game in Seattle but revised his diagnosis.

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