The Bear Facts: Week 8

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
5:54
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Jeff Dickerson, Michael C. Wright and Tom Waddle break down why the Bears' run game and Jay Cutler's ability to limit turnovers will be key in Chicago's matchup against New England in Week 8.

Vereen, six others questionable for Sunday

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
4:55
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As expected, New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. The Boston Globe reported earlier this week that Jones is expected to miss “about a month.”

Meanwhile, running back Shane Vereen's absence from practice Friday was because of an illness and he is one of seven players listed as questionable. At this point, it would be a surprise if Vereen does not play.

Offensive linemen Dan Connolly (concussion), Cameron Fleming (finger) and Bryan Stork (concussion) are also questionable, as their returns would give the Patriots a chance to have their most effective offensive line this season active for the game. That offensive line would be comprised of left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Connolly, center Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.


Resetting Patriots practice squad

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
4:10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots filled the final two spots on their practice squad Friday by re-signing linebacker Ja'Gared Davis and also signing rookie receiver Jonathan Krause.

Davis was waived Thursday so the Patriots could make room for linebacker Akeem Ayers, who was acquired in a trade from Tennessee.

The 22-year-old Krause, who played at Vanderbilt, was originally signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent. Krause (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) totaled 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns at Vanderbilt in 2013. He returned two punts for touchdowns as a junior in 2012.

Patriots practice squad
DT Ben Bass
DE Jake Bequette
WR Josh Boyce
LB Ja'Gared Davis
LB Darius Fleming
OL Caylin Hauptmann
WR Jonathan Krause
DT Kona Schwenke
CB Daxton Swanson
DT Joe Vellano

Afternoon updates from Gillette

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick hits from the Patriots’ locker room on Friday:

Browner feels difference from last week. Veteran cornerback Brandon Browner held court with reporters and said he feels more game-ready this week after four straight practices. Browner played 41 of 87 defensive snaps last week and said afterwards that he felt winded. On Friday, Browner explained that there is a difference between general conditioning and football conditioning. "Practice makes perfect. My [football] conditioning is getting a little better," he said.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Browner
Mike Reiss/ESPNBrandon Browner says he feels physically more prepared for game day this week.
Revis keeps things in-house. This was the first chance we had to approach Darrelle Revis since the Boston Globe report of him missing Tuesday's practice as a result of oversleeping. Revis, who has consistently been available and cordial to the press this season, said he has an understanding with coach Bill Belichick, and there was nothing else to add.

Ninkovich on Forte. The Patriots will have to find a way to contain the Bears’ Matt Forte, the NFL’s reception leader who also happens to be a running back. “He is a smooth guy,” Rob Ninkovich said. “I feel like he is a smooth runner and he has good vision, so it comes down to fundamentally being solid and everybody being tight on responsibilities.” Ninkovich said one way to bump Forte around is through the pass-rush. “As a defensive end when you are on your way to the quarterback, if the running back is there, it would be smart of you to hit him,” Ninkovich said.

Ninkovich’s favorite team. He’s obviously a Patriots guy now, but as a kid from Illinois, Ninkovich’s favorite team growing up wasn’t the Bears. “Cowboys. '90s. Baller. Bears, not so much in the 90s,” he said.

Vereen update. Running back Shane Vereen missed practice on Friday and his chair was folded up, which seemed like he wasn’t at the team’s facilities. The Boston Herald reported Vereen missed practice due to an illness. Running back James White said that he made use of the increased reps and that he and Brandon Bolden are the next guys up if Vereen cannot play on Sunday.

Extra points. Defensive tackle Chris Jones was not fined for his low hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith. And offensive lineman Jordan Devey was not fined for his unnecessary roughness penalty.

Prediction: Patriots will beat Bears

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
2:40
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I view this as a matchup between a careless team (Chicago Bears) and one that protects the ball with good discipline (New England Patriots). The turnover numbers reflect that -- 13 giveaways for the Bears, just five for the Patriots. If the Patriots can protect Tom Brady, I see opportunities for the offense to move the ball and score points much like Miami did last week when Ryan Tannehill completed his first 14 passes of the game. If Tannehill can do that, I think the chances are good that Brady will exceed it.

Prediction: Patriots 34, Bears 28

ACCOUNTABILITY CHECK (what we said last week): Basing a prediction on a weather forecast is always risky business, but I think the heavy projected rainfall evens things up and is a nice break for the Jets. To win in the elements, the running game is critical and I have doubts that the Patriots will be able to get it going against a solid Jets front that has contributed to a No. 6 ranking in average yards per carry allowed (3.5). But in the end, I keep coming back to the one contrast duly noted between the teams on the stat sheet: The Patriots are tied for first in turnover differential (plus-9, 14 takeaways, 5 giveaways), while the Jets are tied for last in the NFL (minus-9, 3 takeaways, 12 giveaways). I expect a close one, with a spirited effort from the Jets, but that discrepancy is just too big to ignore. Patriots 17, Jets 13.

Patriots-Bears: ESPN Boston's picks

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
1:51
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Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears (1 p.m. ET, Fox) playing out. What is your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

RB Shane Vereen not seen at practice

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
11:55
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Shane Vereen was not spotted at the start of the Patriots’ practice on Friday.

 Vereen has not been listed on the team’s injury report, so it was unclear why he was missing from practice. He was in attendance for the three other practices held this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Vereen had dealt with a shoulder injury earlier in the season that had him listed as questionable for the team’s Week 3 game against Oakland.

Defensive end Chandler Jones missed his fourth practice of the week with a hip injury and is unlikely to play this Sunday against the Bears. Jones is reportedly out for one month while he recovers.

While there was a sighting of defensive tackle Alan Branch in the locker room on Thursday, Branch was not seen at Friday’s practice. The team has not officially announced the signing of the 6-foot-6, 325 pound Branch.

The Patriots were wearing sweats and shells at practice.

Bill Belichick cites Dominique Easley's versatility, instinct

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:55
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the New England Patriots prepare to play without defensive end Chandler Jones, who is reportedly out for a month with a hip injury, the defense is turning to the next man up.

Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley, the team’s first pick in the 2014 draft, has battled injuries this season, but his versatility along the line will likely put him in a bigger role.

Easley
Head coach Bill Belichick touched on Easley’s unique ability to play anywhere on the line.

“Well, Easley has really played all those spots across the board from college and even back from the spring and when he was able to practice in training camp, he’s worked all the way from outside the tight end to on the center’s nose,” Belichick said. “He’s been at every spot.

“That is unusual," Belichick acknowledged. "He has a unique set of skills that allow him to do that. Quick enough to play outside and enough playing strength to play inside to a degree. Good instinctiveness in terms of recognizing blocking schemes. He knows there are a lot of different things that can happen when you are in there between a guard and a center or a guard and a tackle, compared to when you are outside with a tight end.”

Belichick also explained that Easley, whose natural position is defensive tackle, is impressive in that he can move from the inside to the outside of the line.

“The game from the inside-out as opposed to the outside-in is different,” Belichick said. “So, there’s not a lot of guys that that comes real easy to. There’s a few, but not a lot.”

Belichick compared Easley to defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and even linebacker Dont'a Hightower in their versatility.

“I would say Vince is like that,” Belichick said. “He’s very instinctive -- not that he is going to play in a 9-technique, but center, guard, tackle and playing on the tight end -- he instinctively does things well there. Same thing with the linebacker position with a guy like Hightower that can play end of the line, that can play tackle bubble, guard bubble, that can play as a middle linebacker over the center.

“It’s hard to find those guys that have that kind of instinctiveness that can see the game I don’t want to say equally well, but pretty equally well at those different spots.

“It’s a lot different looking at the game outside-in vs. inside-out and to be able to flip back and forth and do that -- not everybody can do that by a long stretch. It takes physical talent but it also takes a mental and instinctive skill to be able to handle that transition, too.”

Making sense of Patriots and Alan Branch

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:50
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One of the more unusual occurrences with a potential New England Patriots free-agent signee has unfolded this week.

On Tuesday, it was reported in multiple outlets -- first by the Boston Globe and then by ESPN and others -- that the Patriots were expected to sign free-agent defensive tackle Alan Branch.

On Thursday, Branch had walked through the team’s locker room and cordially engaged reporters, saying he’d talk when given clearance from the club. Branch also stopped at one locker that appeared to have some of his belongings in it.

Branch
Yet here we are on Friday and there has been no official transaction.

So what’s going on?

Here’s what I think is happening:

The Patriots had hoped to have Branch in the fold for this week’s game against the Bears. They brought him to town mid-week with the intention of signing him, assuming everything checked out medically and with his workout.

Something obviously happened between the workout and the team’s next practice.

That could have been specifically with Branch, who was first spotted by reporters Thursday coming out of the athletic training room. It wouldn’t be out of the question that perhaps Branch tweaked something in the workout, affecting his availability.

Or it simply could have been that ever-evolving needs on other areas of the roster trumped the urgency to sign Branch immediately. For example, perhaps the idea of carrying an extra offensive lineman until there is more clarity on the injury status of concussed Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork takes precedence.

Asked about Branch on Friday, Bill Belichick said: “We work out a lot of players around here over the course of the season. Some we bring on the roster and sign and we work with. Some we don’t and are there if we decide to do it.”

Branch’s presence at the team facility Thursday had the feeling of a type of “I’m going to be around here” situation. Most players the team works out don’t hang around and chat with reporters unless they’re going to stick around.

So in this case, Branch is still on standby.

No one would be surprised if a signing happens today. But if the team doesn’t think he would be ready to help Sunday -- and without practicing this week that might be asking a lot -- perhaps an official signing is still a few days away.

Bill Belichick deflects questions

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:46
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Making his first public comments since cornerback Darrelle Revis was kept out of practice for tardiness, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was characteristically deflective when asked several questions about the absence.

Several reports had conflicting details about whether Revis was sent home from the facility or was told to stay home before he showed up. Belichick did not shed any light on the situation.

Here's a back-and-forth between Belichick and reporters from Friday's news conference:

Reporter: "Bill, what is your version of what happened with Darrelle Revis on Tuesday?"

Belichick: "Anything between me and a player is between myself and the players."

Reporter: "You sent him home, is that correct?"

Belichick: "I didn't say that."

Reporter: "But, he was here and ... "

Belichick: "I'm ready to talk about the Bears. Anything else is between myself and the players."

Reporter: "Will his playing time on Sunday be impacted in any way based on that?"

Belichick: "The Bears are really a good team. I think they are going to be a tough matchup for us. We are going to do the best we can to match up against them."


(Read full post)


Bears vs. Patriots preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
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Has it really been eight years already?

The last time the Chicago Bears visited the New England Patriots, on Nov. 26, 2006, quarterback Tom Brady was juking linebacker Brian Urlacher on an unforgettable 11-yard run en route to a hard-fought, 17-13 win.

The Patriots had ripped up their natural-grass field the week before and installed FieldTurf on a permanent basis.

"It goes fast," Brady said of the eight years. "Before that game, we played the Jets in a rainstorm, and the field really started off crappy that year. The start of the year, it was like a sandpit."

The Bears' return to New England for the first time since that game, and ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Michael C. Wright (Bears) break down the matchup:

Reiss: Give us a feel for the state of the Bears team from a locker room solidarity standpoint. Any sense of how receiver Brandon Marshall's remarks were received?

Wright: Well, you're talking about a locker room with 53 players, meaning 53 individuals who all view things differently. On one hand, you've got players who saw Marshall's remarks as something that needed to be said. On the other, you've got guys who believe he needed to keep those sharp criticisms in house. Ultimately, all of these guys have to continue to play together and unite to reach the goal, which obviously is to defeat the Patriots. Bears general manager Phil Emery recently took part in a chat on the team's official website and likened the situation to a family. There will be disagreements and different points of view, but ultimately, it's all love. So I think the Bears will quickly forget about Sunday's drama once they get into the thick of preparation for the Patriots.

The Patriots looked like a tired team during their 27-25 win over the New York Jets, especially on defense. How much of a change can we expect from this team with plenty of rest and 10 days to prepare for the Bears?

Reiss: If it doesn't change, Mike, then I think they are in trouble. I probably gave them a little more leeway on that performance than others because it was their fourth game in 18 days (three in prime time), and they had no full-speed practices to adjust to the season-ending loss of signal-caller Jerod Mayo five days earlier. I thought they looked tired, and some players said as much after the game. The tackling was sloppy, and there was just no snap in their performance. Looking ahead, the concerns are in the front seven, where they are thin and still banged up. They are pretty deep in the secondary, especially at cornerback. I'd expect a better performance Sunday than we saw Oct. 16.

Patriots followers had been hoping the team might make a run at defensive end Jared Allen in the offseason. How would you characterize his impact on the Bears defense?

Wright: Very minimal at this point, Mike, and I don't quite understand exactly why. I think a combination of factors have limited Allen's ability to make a real impact on the defense. During the preseason, Allen missed time to attend the birth of his daughter. Then, the team held him out of the third preseason game due to a bruised shoulder. Two days after the team's Sept. 22 win over the Jets, Allen was diagnosed with pneumonia, which caused him to lose 15 pounds and forced him to break a streak of 113 consecutive starts.

Meanwhile, Allen's backup, Willie Young, is putting together a career year (seven sacks). The Bears originally brought in Young to be a starter at defensive end, but when Allen became available in free agency, the club pounced and made Young the backup. But while Allen was missing time dealing with injuries and illness, Young stepped up and earned significant snaps. Now, it appears Allen has been relegated to a lesser role. Allen contributed half a sack in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins but didn't receive much playing time. Reporters asked Allen about that after the game, and all he could say was we'd have to ask the coach.

What I find a little odd is the Patriots rank fairly high in terms of points allowed, and they're also doing pretty well in terms of takeaways (tied for most in the NFL), yet there's the perception that New England's defense isn't very good. I know they've struggled against the run, but why is that the case, and where -- in terms of the defense's strengths -- do you think New England matches up best against Chicago's struggling offensive attack?

Reiss: They've had three really bad games against the run, giving up 191 to the Dolphins in the season opener, 207 to the Kansas City Chiefs and then 218 to the Jets. Like most things in football, it's never really one thing. I thought the game plan against Miami was a bit flawed because they played Chandler Jones as a 5-technique defensive end in the 3-4 and, overall, they were hurt by the inside zone runs. Against Kansas City, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are no slouches, and that was just a beatdown in a frenzied environment in which the Patriots didn't enter the boxing ring with the emotion needed to win. Then, the Jets game had those dynamics in play where they were without Mayo for the first time, had others banged up and were fatigued quickly. As for where the Patriots match up best with the Bears, I'd relay what Darrelle Revis said Wednesday -- the unit is at its best producing turnovers. What Revis didn't say, but you can probably confirm best, is that Chicago has been generous in that area.

With Matt Forte, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler, that's a pretty high-powered offensive package of five key players. What are some of the reasons they haven't been more explosive?

Wright: The No. 1 reason is turnovers, and Cutler has committed more of them than anyone else (10) on the team, with opponents scoring 37 points off the quarterback's generosity. In each of the four losses, Cutler turned the ball over multiple times, yet in each of the victories, the quarterback didn't commit a single turnover. Headed into the game against the Dolphins, Bears coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and even Cutler himself pointed to turnovers being the common denominator in each of the losses. Yet for whatever reason, the Bears haven't been able to fix the problem. I think Trestman, as a play-caller, shares in some of the responsibility because he probably needs to lean more on the rushing attack. Forte is averaging 4 yards per carry this season, yet in the first half last week, the Bears handed off to him just twice. Yes, the Bears ran just 18 plays in the first half. But the team needs to make Forte a more focal part of the game plan, which would enable Cutler to utilize play-action more effectively. Also, I believe there might be a problem brewing at right tackle with Jordan Mills. In each of the past two games, the Bears have had to give Mills help in protection, which obviously reduces the number of targets you can send out on routes.

Let's look at the other side of the ball. It's sort of rare to hold possession for 19:06, be outgained by 100 yards and have 12 fewer first downs than the Jets, yet still come out victorious. I know the offensive line has struggled, but can you give me an overview of some of the issues on offense?

Reiss: It starts on the offensive line. Our good friends at ESPN's Stats & Information passed along these numbers that reflect some of the instability: The Patriots have had nine different offensive linemen play at least 100 snaps, tied for the most in the league. Furthermore, New England is the only team to play six different players for at least 100 snaps at the three interior offensive line positions. Part of that has been injury-based, while part of it has been performance-based. They opened the season with tackle Marcus Cannon at left guard despite never playing him there in the preseason. He lost the job after three weeks, as did first-year right guard Jordan Devey. Things have stabilized a bit in recent weeks, and, not surprisingly, the offense has looked better in the process. It has helped that tight end Rob Gronkowski is just about back to 100 percent after being eased back into the mix coming off his torn right ACL. What a difference-maker.

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What Patriots can learn from TNF

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
5:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick sometimes will show New England Patriots players and coaches key developments from other games around the NFL, as those situations could come up in their own games.

Along those lines, here were a few takeaways from the "Thursday Night Football" game between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos:

Instant replay on kickoff return was turning point: When Broncos kick returner Andre Caldwell lost a late second-quarter fumble following a Chargers touchdown that made it 7-7, it set San Diego up with great field position and the chance for a "double score" as they would get the ball to open the third quarter. But instant replay reversed the call as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained on Twitter:

 
Anything other than hand or wrist puts player down." That was a close one and a good reminder to all returners when it comes to what constitutes a player being ruled down.

Importance of disguising defensive intentions: Not that the Patriots really need any reminder of this based on their history playing Peyton Manning, but the veteran quarterback is a master at the line of scrimmage with his hard snap count, which often leads to the defense declaring its intentions early. One of the primary examples of this came with 11:45 remaining in the third quarter, with Manning's hard count baiting the Chargers into showing their intended blitz. That led Manning to change things around and hit running back Ronnie Hillman in the right flat for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, it was a touchdown. This highlights the importance of winning the pre-snap chess match against Manning.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos, who don't play again until they visit the Patriots on Nov. 2, appear to be the best team in the NFL at the moment.
Winning 50-50 balls: Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders had a big night, as did Denver cornerback Aqib Talib. One common thread between them is that they won more often than not in 50-50 situations. Sanders' 38-yard catch with 1:53 remaining in the first quarter was the most notable to fall into this category, while Talib was especially active on the defensive side in terms of batting away passes. Sometimes it's about scheme. Sometimes it's just about making a play in 50-50 situations. To beat Denver, those 50-50 situations have to be won.

'Best team in football': The Broncos were impressive on offense and defense and with extra time to prepare for their Nov. 2 game at New England, they will likely be a favorite. As CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz said, "We've had a chance to see, in person, Denver three times. We've seen everybody from Seattle to New England. This is the best team in football." CBS analyst Phil Simms then said, "Right now there is no doubt in my mind they are the best team in football. So many weapons on offense. Peyton Manning the quarterback. Fast. They can do everything on the defensive side. Like I said earlier in the game, they match up and they attack [on both sides of the ball]."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had third-year defensive end Scott Solomon and rookie running back David Fluellen in for tryouts on Thursday.

The 6-foot-3, 262-pound Solomon played in six games for the Buccaneers this season and was released this week when the Buccaneers signed returner Trindon Holliday. A seventh-round draft choice out of the Titans in 2012, Solomon played in 12 games as a rookie in Tennessee before hooking on with the Jets for a game in 2013 and then landing in Tampa Bay. He attended Rice University.

As for the 5-11, 224-pound Fluellen, who attended Toledo, he spent training camp with the Eagles this year after signing as an undrafted free agent. He was traded to the Colts on Aug. 20 for kicker Cody Parkey. He was waived at the final cutdown and hasn't played in a game this season, but had notable production in college.

The Patriots are regularly working out free agents to update their emergency lists while also looking to fill out their practice squad. With running back Jonas Gray having been recently promoted to the active roster, it makes sense that the club would be seeking a replacement on the practice squad.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots had no changes to their injury report as defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) was the only player who did not participate in practice on Thursday.

Jones will reportedly miss one month with a hip injury.

Offensive lineman Dan Connolly (concussion), rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee), core special-teamers Nate Ebner (finger) and Matthew Slater (shoulder), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) and rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) continue to be limited participants in practice.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle), cornerback Brandon Browner (ankle), safety Devin McCourty (rib), linebackers Jamie Collins (thigh) and Dont'a Hightower (knee) returned to full participation on Wednesday and were all full participants in practice again on Thursday.

The full participation of all of these players, especially Collins and Hightower, who will continue to be relied on heavily with linebacker Jerod Mayo done for the year, are encouraging signs.

Patriots locker-room leftovers

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
5:17
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Leftovers from the New England Patriots' locker room on Thursday:

Wilfork on Revis. Cornerback Darrelle Revis missed practice on Tuesday and there have been reports that he was tardy and received a punishment from Bill Belichick. Vince Wilfork discussed Revis as a teammate. “He’s a great guy, on the field and off the field he’s just a great guy. Football IQ is outstanding. It’s at an all-time high,” Wilfork said. “I’m glad he’s on my squad, I’ll tell you that.”

Branch sighting. The Patriots have not officially announced the signing of defensive tackle Alan Branch, but he was spotted in the locker room wearing a Michigan Wolverines sweatshirt and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Branch would not talk with the media. He also looks as big as his bio says -- 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds -- if not bigger.

Gronk on importance of ball security. This Bears defense may not be the classic, hard-nosed defense of the past in Chicago, but these guys still get after the football. The Bears lead the NFL with 12 forced fumbles and have recovered four of them. “Yeah, there’s always players in the secondary grasping at the ball,” Rob Gronkowski said. “Coach Belichick does a great job every week with us on making sure we protect the ball. We are always preparing for it every week, no matter who the opponent is. Just paying special attention to it this week for sure.”

Easley on playing various spots on D-line. Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley may have to fill the role of right defensive end and play standup end in place of the injured Chandler Jones on Sunday. Easley said he has learned a lot from the veteran leaders around him. He also acknowledged there is a big change between playing inside on the line and playing standup end and cracked a joke. “It changes a lot,” Easley said. “I mean, there’s a lot of football words in it, probably you won’t understand, but it changes a lot.”

Schwenke number change. Practice squad defensive lineman Kona Schwenke was not spotted at practice wearing his No. 97 jersey. Though, there was a player at practice wearing No. 69, and Schwenke had a new nameplate saying he is now No. 69. The jersey change coincides with Branch most likely taking the No. 97 jersey.

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