With six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher still working his way back from a dislocated wrist that ended his 2009 season on opening day, the Bears increased their depth and experience at the position by re-signing unrestricted free agent Pisa Tinoisamoa to a one-year contract Monday.
Tinoisamoa, who will be entering his eighth season, signed with the Bears last season as an unrestricted free agent following six productive seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Although the 6-1, 230-pounder won the starting job at strong-side linebacker, he suffered a sprained knee on the second play of the season opener and missed the next three games. He returned to start in Week 6 but suffered another knee injury in his first game back and missed the remainder of the year, finishing the season on injured reserve.
Tinoisamoa, 28, is expected to compete again for the starting job on the strong side. But he will face stiff competition from Nick Roach, who started 15 games last season, including 12 on the strong side.
"Nick Roach is a good football player," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He can do it all. [As a pass rusher], he can beat a running back one on one. He's a good rusher. We'll be comfortable with him there."
Tinoisamoa's re-signing creates what should be a spirited competition throughout the offseason and into training camp and probably the preseason schedule. Tinoisamoa led the Rams in tackles in four of his six seasons in St. Louis, where he also intercepted seven passes and had 10 sacks.
Urlacher and weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, who led the team with 147 tackles last season, have been voted to 11 Pro Bowls between them, including six by Urlacher. But with Urlacher and Tinoisamoa playing barely one game between them last season, Roach, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Jamar Williams all were asked to make major contributions.
With all six of their top linebackers expected back this season, that position should be one of the strongest on the team.
NOTES AND QUOTES
In Cutler's defense, the Bears' running game and offensive line were also major disappointments, which had more than a little to do with the quarterback's underwhelming performance. Cutler was also working with a young and inexperienced group of wide receivers with which he should have a better rapport after an additional year together.
Cutler remains a franchise-type quarterback because of his rocket arm, accuracy and knack for moving in the pocket and buying time. But he has yet to prove himself as a leader and a winner. Cutler has not led a team to a winning record in the NFL or in college. He is seen as aloof and still has a reputation as a finger-pointer. But he may have grown up some last season. Although there were many opportunities to blame an inexperienced group of wide receivers and a mediocre offensive line, Cutler did not throw anyone under the bus.
"We knew about Jay's arm, his athletic ability, all those things you can see on video," Smith said. "But when you get a chance to be around him, it's his toughness [that stands out] as much as anything. The quarterback of the Chicago Bears should be a tough guy, and that's what I saw. I saw his toughness in how he handled things and his toughness on the football field too. It's OK to slide once in awhile, but that's not his mentality." ...
Alex Brown has been cut and Adewale Ogunleye is in unrestricted-free-agent limbo and will not be back, so Israel Idonije is competing with Mark Anderson for the starting defensive end job opposite Julius Peppers.
For the past couple years, Idonije has bounced back and forth between end and tackle, but now the coaching staff says he'll be able to focus on one position, but Idonije isn't entirely convinced.
"Prepare for everything is kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity to play end. That's the goal, to come in and be able to rush off that end, whatever side they ask, and just get after the quarterback." ...
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is confident that Urlacher is primed for a big comeback in 2010 after suffering a season-ending dislocated wrist in Week 1 last year.
"He's 100 percent ready to go," Angelo said. "I feel great that he's back, and getting him back into form can only make us, not only a better defense, but a better football team."
QUOTE TO NOTE
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