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If indeed clothes make the man, one by one the Bears marched loudly out of Halas Hall on Thursday a determined bunch.
Before escaping for a badly needed three-day break to think about anything but the numbers 3 and 5, Tommie Harris handed out black T-shirts to teammates he had made for the team with the words "I Believe!!!'' on the back. Nothing sums up the Bears' sense of urgency like three exclamation points.
"It means we believe in ourselves and we have to come together and circle the bandwagons,'' Devin Hester said. "Because it's tough for us right now.''
A T-shirt slogan campaign doesn't always guarantee things will get easier. Fashion statements aren't always echoed on the field. Remember the Cubs, for example, tried going with the always optimistic, "It's Gonna Happen.''
Then it didn't.
"[Harris] didn't make us wear them,'' Danieal Manning said of the new T-shirts. "We just wanted to wear them.''
Unofficially, for anyone keeping score at home, this is the second known attempt by the Bears to use a T-shirt for a rallying cry. Back in May before a mini-camp, Olin Kreutz printed up shirts with "Unfinished,'' on the front and "February 3, 2008'' on the back.
That's when Super Bowl XLII kicks off. But at this midseason point, it looks like a better date for the Bears to think about making reservations for a home caterer than for a hotel in Glendale, Ariz.
Still, they have no other choice but to believe, and give Harris credit for making the most obvious effort of anybody in the locker room to "circle the bandwagons,'' in Hester's words.
Any better suggestions for a second-half slogan?
Email your ideas and maybe we can take a look at some of the best ones next week when it's guaranteed the Bears will not be coming off a loss. Believe it.
Here are some other answers to pressing Bears questions.
What would the salary cap hit be if at the end of the year the Bears cut Cedric Benson? Do the Bears have enough money under the salary cap to make a big run and get a running back that fits our style, AKA Michael Turner. -- Josh, Chicago
The Bears are less than $1 million under the salary cap and could have less wiggle room than in past off-seasons even after some expiring contracts are off the books, though losing Lance Briggs' one-time $7.2 million hit will help. The cap is projected to jump $7 million to $116 million for the 2008 season. As for Benson, his base salary of $620,000 and pro-rated signing bonus of $2.575 million make him count $3.195 million toward the salary cap for 2007, according to the NFLPA salary documents. He is set to earn base salaries of $820,000 and $1.020 million in 2008 and 2009, respectively. But if the Bears cut him at the end of this season because they conclude he isn't the featured back they envisioned - a possibility - the remainder of his unaccounted for signing bonus will be an immediate salary-cap hit. Given the two years left on Benson's deal, according to a pro-rated bonus that would accelerate, that could count as much as $5.15 million against the salary cap if the Bears choose to get Benson off the books. Add that to the cost of buying another running back such as Turner, who won't be cheap, and you can see why the Bears need Benson to turn it on in the second half of the season.
The Bears are among the league leaders in sacks but it always seems that on third downs, opposing QBs have all day to throw. How many of the Bears' sacks this year have come on third down vs. first and second downs? -- John L, Naperville
Of the Bears' 25 sacks this season, eight have come on third downs, six on second downs and 11 on first downs, according to STATS. But more than half - 13 - have come against opponents' 3-wide receiver formations when the Bears have had their nickel defense on the field. Though the personnel up front varies, the Bears generally insert Israel Idonije at defensive tackle to bolster the pass rush up the middle and nickel back Ricky Manning Jr. for strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. Opponents, by the way, are converting 36.3 percent of third downs against the Bears defense, which puts them in the bottom half of the league (18th).
So if Ron Turner is calling the offensive plays, and Bob Babich calls the defense ... What does Lovie Smith actually do during the game? When they show him on camera he doesn't ever appear to be talking to anybody via the headset or in person. Only time he seems to do something is throw the challenge flag. -- Berenger Fish, Austin, Texas
When a team starts out 3-5, fans will assume the head coach isn't doing much of anything on Sunday afternoons. But the truth is, Smith's approach on game day isn't all that different this year than last when the Bears were the NFC's best team. He oversees the sidelines, sets an emotional tone, communicates with the captains and makes key fourth-down decisions. Smith remains in constant communication with Turner and Babich depending on whether the Bears have the football but lets his assistant coaches do their jobs. For the record, Smith has thrown the red flag three times in eight games and the only time it resulted in a call being overturned was on Greg Olsen's called fumble against Philadelphia that the Eagles thought they recovered.
When are you guys (sports reporters) going to stop using the fans as your excuse for getting information from players? We saw the game. We know they played bad and we know the playoffs are unreachable. Brian Urlacher talking to you guys doesn't matter. He has a bad back. Now we know. What else do you need to ask him? And why do ALL of you guys keep using the fans as the excuse to getting that information? You simply want to beat each OTHER to story. So please, stop speaking for all of us. -- Tal Hauch, Chicago
With due respect, you are simply speaking for yourself. If the majority of fans didn't care about players' personalities or what they had to say about games on TV, then there would be no NFL Network, network pre-game shows or special post-game newspaper sections every Monday morning, among other extras devoted to the most popular sport in America. Personally, if Urlacher never answered another question the rest of his career, I doubt that I would waste a minute wondering what he was thinking. He is not the most popular Bear because of how he articulates his thoughts or because he speaks in compelling sound bites. He never has and nobody who has had a conversation with him expects he ever will. But professional athletes have a responsibility to deal with the media so the people who buy No. 54 jerseys or a bottle of a certain sports drink because Urlacher endorses it can hear from their favorite player. It's not only NFL protocol, it's smart business for Urlacher, the Bears and the league. Why is it so much to hold an NFL player to a minimum standard of professional courtesy? Competition between news agencies really has nothing to do with the Urlacher situation. Urlacher's decision to filter his thoughts through foxsports.com and Jay Glazer has more to do with a personal friendship than a professional decision to punish a particular newspaper or his desire to reach as many fans as possible, which he would be able to do through a broader outlet. But then that outlet might actually assign a reporter who might not conceal information on demand or worry about a news report affecting a friendship, which is probably why Urlacher chose the route he chose to enter the brave, new world of blogging.
Has there ever been a more invisible player than Hunter Hillenmeyer? Is it due to the scheme that I never see or hear this guy during a game? -- Rich, Plymouth, Minn.
Couldn't disagree more. Hillenmeyer has started 43 games in the past three-and-a-half seasons and might be the most overlooked important defensive player. He is a two-down player, coming out on most third downs when the nickel package comes in, yet still is fourth on the team with 36 tackles. More than any other player, Hillenmeyer understands his limitations and plays within them. He seldom finds himself out of position due to savvy and intelligence that tend to make people forget he is a pretty solid tackler too. Teams need complementary players who don't ask questions and supply many answers and Hillenmeyer's versatility has made him more valuable the Bears could have imagined when signing him in September 2003 after the Packers waived the former fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt.
Brian Griese is obviously not the answer and has done no better than Rex Grossman. He is not going to lead the Bears into the future. Why not put Rex back in and see if more experience without the pressure of making the playoffs will make him better? If not, at least we know that by the end of the year and we can look somewhere else. -- Danny, Mauston, Wis.
If the future becomes the top priority, going back to Grossman wouldn't be as logical as giving Kyle Orton a shot. As much as Grossman probably would play well in relief of Griese this season if the Bears need him to make a last-ditch playoff run, the Bears appear to have made up their minds on Grossman. In three games, the team lost faith and went from projecting him as its franchise quarterback to planning a graceful exit from Chicago. Griese has been inconsistent too but five games isn't a fair barometer to measure whether he deserves a shot to compete for the starting job in '08. Playing Orton will make sense when playing for next year takes precedent over playing for a playoff spot.
What is the Bears' regular season win/loss record when they wear those all-orange jerseys? How many games in the all-orange jerseys, and how many of those have they won? -- Jim Krizek, Charlotte
Credit Bears public relations assistant Mike Corbo with some quick, thorough research in the Bears' wardrobe department. Corbo reported that the Bears are 2-1 in the new-look orange jerseys with the only loss coming last Sunday to the Lions. In 2005, the franchise unveiled the orange jerseys, wearing them Nov. 13 at home vs. San Francisco. Last season the Bears chose to wear the orange third-jersey on Oct. 29 again against the 49ers at Soldier Field. They won both those games. On Nov. 25, 2004, the Bears wore an orange "throwback" jersey in a Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, which was different from the jersey worn last Sunday.