Too often, defensive ends in the NFL are judged solely by their sack totals, but there's more to the job than getting to the quarterback. The Bears' Alex Brown has never had more than seven sacks in any of his six seasons, and he had just 4.5 in 2007. But his value to the team was demonstrated in the offseason, when he was rewarded with a two-year extension through 2013 that will pay him $15.5 million in new money.
Brown says just because he's never approached double-digit sack numbers, it doesn't make him a bad player.
"You play maybe 500 plays a year, and you get 10 sacks," Brown said hypothetically. "That means you've got 490 other plays. What did you do on those plays? Did you give up a 40-yard run? Did you not do your job? Just 'cause you get 10 sacks … yeah, they're huge plays, don't get me wrong. But there's a lot more to football than sacks."
Last year, for the first time since the midway point of his rookie season in 2002, Brown was not a starter. His right end spot, the one usually associated with big sack numbers in the NFL, was given to Mark Anderson. As a rookie in 2006, Anderson racked up 12 sacks as a situational pass rusher backing up Brown and left end Adewale Ogunleye.
Bears coaches downplayed the demotion, pointing out, correctly, that the team utilizes all three ends almost equally and considers all three to be starting-caliber players. But the bottom line for Brown was that he wouldn't be on the field when the game started, and he was clearly aggravated.
On the first day of training camp, he signified his mood by wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of Grumpy, one of the seven dwarfs. He vented briefly early in camp and then went out and played maybe the best football of his career. Only Ogunleye had more tackles than Brown among the Bears' defensive linemen last year.
Brown tied for first on the team with 5 pass breakups by batting balls down at the line of scrimmage, and he was tied for second with 5 tackles for loss, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 2 fumbles and also had an interception.
Now he's back in the starting lineup, and his bubbly personality is back, too. But he admits last year's experience brought him face to face with his professional mortality.
"Just because you're a starter doesn't mean you're going to start the next day or even the next year," he said. "It's going to end one day, and it very well could have ended for me as far as starting last year. Mark played great his first year, but nobody really played great last year. You can't just put it on Mark, but I was fortunate to get another opportunity to come back and [start]."
Anderson's sack total dropped from 12 to 5, and he's back in his original role. Brown's also back in his old role, but with a new perspective.
"It can be taken away just like that," he said. "I don't believe I ever got complacent. I never got comfortable. But I kind of expected to start, and you shouldn't. You shouldn't expect anything. Granted, I did have my best year in `06, and I lost my job. Things happen for a reason, but I'm not real sure why that happened. But everything's good now. Last year is last year."
The Grumpy tee-shirt hasn't been seen all summer, and neither has the withdrawn Alex Brown. He'd be a contender for the Mr. Congeniality award. The best dwarf to describe Brown's current mood has to be "Happy."
"I'm pretty excited about how everything has worked out with everybody," Brown said. "Not just myself but you've got [contract extensions for] Desmond [Clark], [Brian Urlacher], [Devin] Hester, and Tommie [Harris]. All the off-the-field stuff is worked out. Now we've just got to go play, and with the defense we have, we should be the best in the league. We should be. I bet we will be – just watch."
If the defense plays as well as Brown thinks it will, he may even get to that elusive and magical sack number. "I don't really care if I ever get 10. Well, actually I do," he said. "I would love to get 10 just so people can't say, ‘He's never gotten 10 sacks.' They could leave that alone. But I do a lot of other stuff, and I take pride in that. You can get pressure on a quarterback, and he throws an interception. The defensive end never gets any credit for that, but as a team we got an interception. That's what we want."
News & Notes
Players and coaches didn't have much reaction to former teammate Muhsin Muhammad's quote on SI.com that Chicago "is where wide receivers go to die," or to a story on CBSSportsline.com that quoted Tank Johnson as saying quarterback Rex Grossman was "brittle" and implying that he was soft.
Maybe the Bears just considered the sources. Or maybe they figured Muhammad was talking about his own career, which isn't far from life support after the Bears cut him following last season's underwhelming 40 receptions, 570 yards and three touchdowns.
After his release by the Bears, Muhammad was re-signed by the Panthers, with whom he spent nine mostly productive seasons at the start of his career. In his final season with Carolina, in 2004, Muhammad caught 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns, four more than his three-year total in Chicago.
Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said he didn't take Muhammad's slight personally, but did point out several exceptions to his allegation.
"Bobby Wade came here and developed, got better, and if he hadn't developed and gotten better, the Titans wouldn't have wanted him," Drake said. "Minnesota wouldn't have wanted him."
After he was waived by the Bears late in 2005, Wade was picked up by the Titans, and he caught 33 passes for 461 yards in 2006, then led the Vikings last season with 54 catches and 647 receiving yards.
There are even better examples, as Drake pointed out.
"Justin Gage, the same way," Drake said. "If he hadn't have come here and gotten better, he wouldn't have gone [to the Titans] and gotten $14 million. Bernard Berrian, if he hadn't developed, he wouldn't have got $42 million with Minnesota."
Gage signed as a free agent with Tennessee and led the Titans with 750 receiving yards last season and tied for the team lead with 55 catches. This past offseason he got a four-year, $14 million deal. Berrian led the Bears with 71 catches and 951 yards before striking it rich in Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent with a six-year deal.
When Grossman was asked about the stone-throwing by Johnson, who lives in the ultimate glass house after weapons and drug convictions, he dismissed it.
"I don't pay attention to any of that," Grossman said. "I don't really have an opinion or a comment on that. They have their own reasons why they need to talk about things. I just do my job and keep quiet."
Kyle Orton, who is battling Grossman for the starting job, like Grossman was thrown under the bus by Muhammad when he was here. He had even less to say when he was asked what kind of teammate Muhammad was.
"No comment," Orton said.
"I thought those guys were my friends," said a miffed Bears Pro Bowl player.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said, "Anytime anybody says something about guys on this team, you take offense to it."
Drake still said he would give Muhammad a hug when the Bears visit the Panthers in Week 2 of the regular season and said he's entitled to his opinion.
"Guys will come here, and we do the best we can to help them," Drake said. "I think while Moose was here, he got better. But one of the things that happened was the emergence of Bernard. He had to share some things. His role probably changed from what he was accustomed to. That's just the way it is." …
At the conclusion of training camp 2008, head coach Lovie Smith said most of the questions about Devin Hester's ability to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL had been answered.
"Coming into camp we talked about him as a returner that a lot of people thought could play receiver," Smith said. "Now, I think it's safe to say that he's a receiver. He's doing all the things that we've asked him to do. I still make the same statement: I think he can be a one- or two-type receiver in the league. He's dangerous when he has his hands on the football, and we're excited about getting his hands on the ball in a lot of different ways."
Hester had one catch for 16 yards in the first preseason game and one punt return for one yard. He said he's prepared to contribute on offense and special teams.
"I don't know how the season's going to [go] as far as the reps on offense and the return game," Hester said. "So I have to prepare myself to go a full game, the return game and offense. I just worked harder." …
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris has high expectations for this season, but the defense will have to stay healthier than last season for the Bears to live up to them.
"Why would I come to work if I didn't expect [to be dominant]?" Harris said. "I don't expect us to be at the bottom like we were last year. So we have a new year, a new slate, and let's see the outcome."
The Bears finished 28th in yards allowed last season, when Harris played hurt much of the year and fellow defensive tackles Dusty Dvoracek, Anthony Adams and Darwin Walker missed a total of 24 games because of injuries. The 2007 defense allowed 93 more points than the 2006 edition.
"I think it speaks for itself, the injuries," Harris said. "If this unit is healthy, how far we can go? I think the sky's the limit." …
Before the most physical practice of training camp began last Tuesday night, rookie guard Chester Adams, a seventh-round pick from Georgia, entertained teammates with a rendition of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations. In a scene reminiscent of the movie "Remember the Titans," Adams stood in the center of the field while teammates who were stretching joined in and clapped along. It was actually an encore performance after Adams sang the same song earlier in the week when required to do so by veterans.
"I sang it the other night at a team meeting and they liked it, so they wanted me to sing it again," said the 6-4, 325-pound Adams. "You've got to do what the vets tell you to do. You're a rookie. It's different. You go from being a senior in college, now you're back to Square 1. But it's a good thing."
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